Family Of Autistic Boy Threatens Court Action Over Closure Of Lifeline Respite Care Centre

Public Law Experts Irwin Mitchell Challenge Ealing Council Over Proposed Closure Of Heller House


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

The family of a severely disabled boy are taking legal action against their local council over its decision to close a “lifeline” respite care facility without finding an alternative within the borough for the children who rely on it.

The parents of the 17-year-old from Ealing, known only as C for legal reasons, have instructed public law experts at Irwin Mitchell to challenge Ealing Council’s decision on February 16 to close Heller House, which will force severely disabled children to travel out of the borough for respite care.

The law firm has written to the council to challenge its decision. The council argues that other boroughs will take in young service users from Ealing, but it appears that no alternative respite care has been formalised and the family’s investigations have shown that there may not be the necessary capacity in other boroughs. The law firm has asked the council to rescind the closure decision and consult service users on a more suitable way forward.

It is alleged that, because the council decided to close Heller House without knowing whether there will be suitable alternative services available, the decision is in breach of the Equality Act 2010 as the council do not know whether and how disabled children will be detrimentally affected.

C, who has autism and other complex disabilities, requires around the clock care. He cannot be left unsupervised. He has attended Heller House two nights per week since December 2010 as well as visiting for short breaks in the past.

His family rely on respite services to enable C to have meaningful social interactions with other youngsters in a safe and controlled environment as well as to give them a much needed break to spend time with their other children, including C’s 20-year-old brother who also has autism and complex needs and lives in a residential placement most of the time.

C’s mother, J, said: “Ealing’s most disabled and vulnerable children have been failed.

“Heller House is a lifeline for children with severe learning disabilities and their parents. I understand it is difficult to fully understand and comprehend how difficult life is for our children and for us as families, caring for them – but it is harder than anyone can ever imagine.

“On a daily basis, we are beaten, spat on, our homes are destroyed, we go without sleep for days, our other children undoubtedly suffer, as families we are isolated and marginalised. And all that gets us through is the love that we have for our children and each other.

“Heller House has provided us with a community of people, who understand all of these things, and who have experienced them. This is a source of comfort and reminds us that we are not alone. We cherish the relationships we have with each other and the staff. The connection shared will be destroyed if Ealing’s parents and carers are sent all over London on an ad hoc and unsecure basis.

“These children cannot deal with long distance travel in confined spaces, they cannot deal with sitting in traffic, and they cannot deal with a change in route due to road works. It can lead them to into self-harming behaviour; they head-butt glass, they punch themselves in the face, they scratch and bite. The children will arrive at respite distressed, they may refuse to return, or the parents, who may note a decline in behaviour, will not allow their children to attend these far away and inconsistent centres. The very purpose of respite will be defeated.”

The family allege that the need for the Heller House service has been misrepresented by the council as they have been directing families away from the service or simply not telling them it is an option, when in fact there are families who need the service.

Expert Opinion
“We have spoken to a number of families who have told us that they would like to use the Heller House service if it were available, who either did not know about it or have not been able to access the service to date.

“It’s clear that by closing the only in-borough provider of overnight respite that there is a risk that if alternative providers lack capacity out of borough then children may not be able to access services to meet their assessed needs.

“We have spoken to a local councillor, Jon Ball, who confirmed that in his opinion it appears negotiations between Ealing Council and other local authorities are far from concrete, and that only very superficial conversations with other local authorities have been conducted to date. Councillor Ball confirmed to us that he believes there is no agreement presently with other local authorities, even in outline, which means a decision has been made to close this invaluable facility without a concrete alternative for the young people who so highly depend on it.”
Alice Cullingworth, Solicitor

Lesley Dodd, Chief Executive of Ealing Mencap, said: “'Ealing Mencap fully supports our local carers in their fight to keep an overnight respite provision in Ealing. It is absolutely imperative for the health and well-being of children and young people with disabilities and their carers that an in-borough service is available.

“We find it difficult to understand the rationale regarding the Ealing's claim that a very small number of families want this service, as we have worked with families who dispute that this is the case. It is our stance, following the Winterbourne View scandal, that it is shocking that Ealing is proposing to send children to provision that will often be a long way from their home; causing distress and difficulties for isolated and highly stressed families managing difficult lives.”

Heller House is a nine-bedroom residential children’s home in Southall, which provides short breaks for young people with complex disabilities from 10 to 18 years old living in Ealing. Children have use of an extensive garden with climbing frame, slide, swings, a basket swing, a wheelchair accessible roundabout and a trampoline. There is also an art room, a computer room, a large play room, a sensory room and a lounge and dining room.

Jamie Burton of Doughty Street Chambers is instructed by Irwin Mitchell as counsel for the claimant.