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Cry for help by mother ignored by Birmingham social workers, inquiry finds

Cry for help by mother ignored by Birmingham social workers, inquiry finds

🕔08.Apr 2014

Birmingham Council’s children’s services department has been criticised in another damning report after social workers ignored for more than a year a plea for help from the mother of a violent and severely autistic teenage boy.

The mother’s windpipe was crushed by her son in one attack, her partner was knocked out and the boy’s grandmother suffered a black eye, but social services failed to respond despite being told the family was “at crisis point”.

An investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman found that failure to act had placed the family at unnecessary risk and ordered the council to apologise and pay £1,250 in compensation to the mother.

The teenager, referred to in the Ombudsman’s report as ‘J’, who is 16 and who has autistic spectrum disorder and communication difficulties, had been living at a residential school during the week.

Staff at the school told the council that the teenager was violent, they were struggling to respond to the boy’s outbursts and that it often took at least two staff to control him when he lashed out.

But on weekends and in the school holidays, the boy’s family was left to manage alone and without help.

This is the second time recently that the Local Government Ombudsman has found Birmingham Council to be in breach of its responsibilities. Last month an investigation revealed how a young girl with severe needs was “lost in the system” for four years by social workers and did not receive the help that she needed.

In the latest case, the family first contacted Birmingham City Council in October 2012, and after an initial assessment by a social worker, the council closed the case in February 2013 without telling the family. The mother wrote again to the council in May that year to complain that she had heard nothing.

Another social worker carried out an assessment in May and the school sent the council supporting evidence to suggest that the teenager presented “very challenging behaviour”. The mother again told social workers she was struggling to cope.

While the family was waiting for help, the teenager’s outbursts became increasingly violent. On one occasion he crushed his mother’s windpipe and knocked her partner out, on another he gave his grandmother a bruised eye. The family told the council they were “at crisis point”.

By July, the school told the council that it could not meet the boy’s needs, and said that his behaviour put staff and others at “considerable risk”.

But the council took the view that the boy’s mother should be able to cope alone with J’s violent moods at weekends and during the school holidays, the Ombudsman found.

It was not until the Ombudsman’s involvement in January 2014 that the council accepted that social care workers should be involved in the case and that the teenager may need full-time residential care.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said: “For far too long this family were placed at unnecessary risk because social workers failed to consider the wider implications of the family’s situation.

“It was clear that this family needed help to look after the boy when he was living with them. Social workers should have considered whether the situation warranted an accommodation placement, rather than just looking at the boy’s educational needs.

“I am pleased to see that Birmingham City Council has already apologised to the family and taken on board my recommendations to ensure that others in a similar situation are treated differently.”

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