Vulnerable youngsters across Lancashire are being failed by vital support services, a scathing report has said.
Aspects of the county’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision have been labelled “alarmingly poor” and “unacceptable” by inspectors.
The damning watchdog report says children are “not at the heart” of required reforms, causing mounting frustration and anger for affected families.
Ofsted inspectors also provided a critical assessment of leadership, with “confused” officers leaving parents “bewildered” about how decisions are reached about their children.
Lancashire County Council has been ordered to produce a statement of action because of the findings, that include;
* Local leaders underestimated how far behind they are in implementing required reforms.
* As a result of failings, children’s needs are not being effectively met and outcomes are not improving.
* Leaders have an inaccurate view of their strengths and weaknesses and there is a lack of strategic leadership.
* The provision has not been a priority for elected members or leaders across health, education and social care.
* Parents across the county are facing a postcode lottery in terms of care quality because of inconsistency.
* Service users have lost trust with those part of the inspection leaving “overwhelmingly damning” accounts.
* Quality of education, health and care (EHC) plans, required for each child and young person, to outline their care needs, was “alarmingly poor”.
* Weaknesses in quality of record-keeping and share of safeguarding information, meaning vulnerable children “did not have a good understanding of how to keep themselves safe.”
County Hall said its services - jointly run with county clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) “had a number of positive aspects” - highlighted in the report.
And several measures to tackle the faults identified by the watchdog are already underway.
However, parents have told the Lancashire Post the “appalling” report accurately reflects their experiences.
Produced following an inspection in November, the report, published this week, judged how effectively reforms set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 had been adopted.
It detailed two “fundamental failings”; that children, young people and their families not at the centre of plans and “leaders have failed to work together to deliver these reforms.”
The Ofsted inspectors identified that “culture and focus had begun to change in recent months..which should act as an impetus for the local area to move forward with greater urgency."
Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, Susie Charles, said: “Children and families are at the heart of what we do and we are committed to giving all young people, whatever their background or needs, the best possible start in life.
“The inspectors’ findings are of concern and we know that improvements must be made to ensure that the experience of children, young people and their families who access these vital services is a positive one.
“We have identified and started to implement a number of actions to address the issues found and staff are working hard to make changes.
“Since I became the responsible cabinet member following the County Council elections in May last year, I have taken this issue very seriously and whilst disappointed with some of the findings I am pleased that the inspectors acknowledged the emerging signs of improvement.
“They recognised that the culture and focus in Lancashire had begun to change in recent months and that professionals could see the benefits of finding joint solutions to common challenges.
“They also praised a number of areas of service delivery and practice, including the high attendance rates for children and young people who have SEN support and those who have an Education, Health and Care Plan or statement.
“A joint written statement of action by LCC and the areas’ clinical commissioning groups will now be sent to Ofsted outlining what improvement will be made.
“And rest assured we will continue to work hard with schools, colleges, health providers and the voluntary sector to make sure there is a level playing field for all children and young people in Lancashire.”
Laura Jolliffe’s 11-year-old daughter Ava is severely disabled and requires round-the-clock care.
She told the Lancashire Post the Ofsted report reflects her experience of dealing the LCC’s SEND services, in particular the difficulties in establishing Ava’s education, health and care (EHC) plan.
“This is no surprise to me, I know parents find it a full-time job in itself just dealing with the services.
“To be quite frank, I feel sorry for those workers on the front line, we have worked with some superb people but they are not supported from behind the scenes.
The Barton resident added: “I could go on and on (about where it needs to improve). I think (the inspectors) have struggled to find anything positive.
“Parents are always willing to engage with LCC, they need to listen to parents and engage with them.
“I can stand up for myself and my child, I know her rights, but there may be others, who maybe are new to the processes, are falling through the cracks and receiving an inferior service.”
Sharon Taylor’s nine-year-old son Thomas has Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Chorley resident was among the group of parents to speak to the Ofsted inspectors.
She told the Lancashire Post the transport plan for Thomas’ journeys to and from a county special school have been “a shambles.”
She said: “All the parents I have spoken to have praised Ofsted and the CQC for producing the report and listening to us. I think the inspector was shell-shocked with what we had to say, I don’t think he could believe it.
“It’s disgusting that at the end of the day the children have been failed.
“The most important thing for us was to be heard, the council have not been listening.
“I knew the report would be bad, but even I’m shocked by it. It’s disgraceful.”
Labour Leader County Councillor Azhar Ali said: “This a very damning report on the SEND service. This Conservative administration cannot hide behind any lame excuses after seven years of Conservative government cuts.
"In addition we have seen more funding cuts to key services in 2017 including cuts to short-breaks just before Christmas and this week we are facing even more heartless Tory cuts.
“This administration needs to stop the cuts to these vital services and invest in our 16,500 children with SEN needs and the 6,500 people with an Education Health Plan and their families who have lost all trust in the current services rather than making further cuts which will result in more pain and chaos.”