A Suffolk council has apologised and agreed to pay out more than £8,000 in compensation after a child with autism was left without suitable education for 18 months.

An investigation from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found on April 4 that Suffolk County Council had failed to provide alternative education to a girl with autism between March 2022 and September 2023.

The council took 18 months to finalise an education, health and care plan (EHCP), when the legal timeframe is 20 weeks.

The council's failure to meet timeframes meant the child lost out on suitable education for a year and a half, which the report said was "significant injustice".

EHCPs are set up to describe a child's special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and the health and social care provision that is needed to meet them, and local authorities must finalise an EHCP within 20 weeks of the initial request for assessment.

The investigation found the mother had made numerous requests for the council to provide an educational package for her daughter that would allow her to study away from school, but adequate provision was still not put in place.

In September 2021, the girl moved to mainstream secondary school but her mother - referred to as Miss X in the report - removed her from school saying she was unable to manage the school environment and rules.

Miss X was also concerned about the potential risk her daughter posed to other pupils, and she felt that home schooling was the only option.

Later in the process, the report states how Miss X was concerned her child may hurt herself or others if pressurised to attend school.

Her daughter received a diagnosis of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in November, and a Speech and Language Therapy assessment (SALT) highlighted she struggled with communication and interaction.

It was in March 2022 that Miss X agreed to request an EHCP, and an officer stated that Elective Home Education (EHE) was not meeting the child’s needs.

The council also noted that it appeared the child was not properly home educated as her mother worked full time.

Suffolk County Council agreed to carry out an EHC needs assessment in May 2022, and should have fulfilled this by early August.

Although a draft plan was issued on August 11, a final EHC plan was not issued until September the next year.

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According to the ombudsman’s report, the council said the delays in the process were due to an officer’s absence and change of systems within the council.

The ombudsman recommended the council apologise to the family for the delays, pay £8,000 to acknowledge the impact of the loss of education, and pay £300 to Miss X for the distress, anxiety, and "time and trouble", all of which the council accepted.

Andrew Reid, cabinet member for education and SEND at the council, said: “I would like to apologise to the child and her family for the distress we have caused. 

“We fully accept the findings of the ombudsman - our involvement has not been good enough.

“This ruling is not a surprise to us. We know the areas where we must do better and there are significant plans in place to improve what we do.

"Scrutinised at the highest level, officers from the Department for Education continue to challenge and hold us accountable on these plans.”

This comes two months after another investigation by the ombudsman resulted in the council awarding more than £10,000 to another Suffolk parent whose child lost out on education.

In January, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) jointly inspected Suffolk County Council’s SEND services and found "widespread and/or systemic failings".