Leeds families with special needs children 'let down' say critics of council's 'broken' system

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The system for offering tailored support to children with special needs is “broken”, according to one of the council’s most senior directors.

Local authorities across the country are being overwhelmed with requests from parents to draw up an education, health and care plan (EHCP) for their child. The plans are supposed to help pupils with additional needs navigate their way through school.

But the post-pandemic spike in these requests has led to severe delays. The parents of one boy with autism and ADHD recently received a £7,000 payout from Leeds City Council after it was revealed he had been out of school for three years.

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The local authority apologised after an ombudsman investigation found it had “lost control” of the boy’s education and that there’d been a delay in reviewing his EHCP. The chair of the council’s children scrutiny board, Coun Dan Cohen, said families were being “let down”.

Leeds Civic Hall. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe.Leeds Civic Hall. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Leeds Civic Hall. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Speaking at a board meeting on Tuesday, Julie Longworth, the council’s interim director for children and families, insisted the pressure on the system was a “national” issue.

Ms Longworth said: “We’ve got a broken system. What we have is an adversarial system where parents feel they have to fight. They feel that the EHCP is their golden ticket to get the support they need to meet the needs of the child. We need to change that.”

Ms Longworth said “early intervention” was key in ensuring children don’t suffer such issues and in therefore reducing pressure on the system.

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Coun Cohen said the local authority needed to make “definitive progress” in addressing the backlog of referrals by “the end of the year”.

“When the system doesn’t work, the stress it causes is significant,” he told the meeting.

“I know a number of parents, particularly some who’ve got in touch with me since I took on this role (as chair of the scrutiny board), are being badly let down.”