CALLS for an independent investigation into Worcestershire Children First following a catalogue of failures experienced by families of children with special needs have been led by a long-suffering Worcester mum.
Elena Round has launched an online petition for Worcestershire Children First (WCF), which runs children’s services on behalf of Worcestershire County Council, to be investigated over its treatment of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Elena’s son Billy is 18 and was born with highly complex needs and severe learning disabilities.
When the family moved to Worcestershire in 2018 he already had a legally-binding education, health and care plan (EHCP) but the local authority unlawfully denied him physical and occupational therapy.
“We were forced to pursue a claim against WCF in the Special Needs Tribunal and won but the stress and financial cost of £25,000 was horrendous. We cannot recoup the money spent or the lost year of therapies whilst we took legal action,” Elena said.
The petition has already reached more than 450 signatures online and organisers also have around 500 signatures on separate paper copies.
“We are not going to stop until we achieve our goal – no matter how long it takes. My husband and I have been completely traumatised by our family’s mistreatment and experiences of Worcestershire Children First.
“We need to ensure there is an independent investigation – not just for ourselves but for the hundreds of other families that are being dreadfully failed.”
Tim Clarke’s brain injured daughter, now aged eight, has been left without any educational provision for three years and has only just started receiving occupational therapy support – despite it being recommended to the local authority in 2019.
Mr Clarke and his wife Ana have now threatened WCF with further legal proceedings after it failed to put in place the comprehensive package of education, therapy and respite support ordered at a tribunal hearing in September 2021.
“We thought when we won our EHCP tribunal appeal in September 2021 our daughter would finally receive the education and therapy she’s been robbed of for three years but Worcestershire Children First has continued to drag its heels and she’s not received a single hour of specialist teaching,” he said. “The most vital years of her rehabilitation have been lost and her future completely undermined.
“An independent investigation is long overdue – without it we don’t believe there will be meaningful change.”
In response Tina Russell, chief executive of WCF, said she understood how ‘serious and frustrating’ it was for families and was committed to ‘driving’ improvements at pace.
“We have been working alongside the Department for Education to ensure our Accelerated Progress Plan refocuses us in the way we are approaching working with parents and carers and ensuring progress for children with special educational needs,” she said.
“We are implementing our Quality Assurance framework in SEND and this will enable us across the multi-agency SEND partnership to have a regular overview not only of key performance indicators but also the experiences of parents and carers and the quality of the assessments and plans being created as we look to move forward.
“The Department for Education signed off our plan and have been particularly positive about our approach to measures, outcomes and to understanding better the experiences of parents and carers.