Public Law And Human Rights Lawyers Instructed By Mother Of 11-Year-Old Boy Refused Support Under Disabilities Service
One of the largest councils in the country is reviewing its children’s social care policy, which determines eligibility for children’s social care services in the Birmingham area, following a legal challenge.
The mother of an 11-year-old boy with special educational needs and disabilities instructed public law and human rights lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate after Birmingham City Council’s Children’s Trust refused the family’s request for support.
Louise Walsh applied for help with her son Dylan, who is autistic and has learning difficulties. She requested support in the form of short breaks, noting the impact Dylan’s behaviour was having on her and her daughter Nikkita, who is 10 years old.
However, the Children’s Trust decided that Dylan didn’t meet the Children with Disabilities Team criteria for support and his needs could be met under “universal targeted services.”
Louise, 38, complained and her legal team at Irwin Mitchell subsequently launched a legal challenge to the decision and the Trust’s Right Help Right Time policy, which determines the eligibility for children’s social care services in the Birmingham area. The family is one of many reported to be concerned over the high threshold for accessing children’s social care services imposed by Birmingham Children’s Trust. There has been a recent spate of reductions in and removals of support packages, including respite care.
Lawyers asked the council to review and change its policy or potentially face a High Court judicial review. Following legal correspondence, Birmingham City Council confirmed it is reviewing the criteria for the provision of services by the Children’s Disabilities Team and the Right Help Right Time policy, and agreed to address the issues raised. As part of the review, the council will consult with parents via the Birmingham Parent Carer Forum, and has advised that a new threshold criteria for the provision of services is expected to be published next month. It will also provide Dylan with interim support in the form of 16 hours a week and to re-assess the family to establish the level of care needed.
Expert Opinion“Recent reports of families impacted by a reduction in or refusal of respite care and short breaks are deeply concerning, and Louise’s decision to launch a legal challenge against the Children’s Trust was not taken lightly, but she felt she had explored all other options.
“We put forward strong arguments that the Trust’s current policy was unlawful in how it determined if someone was eligible for children’s services by excluding those who would normally be expected to meet the criteria.
“Louise was deeply upset when she was told Dylan didn’t meet the criteria and didn’t know where to turn next, so we’re therefore grateful that the Trust has now agreed to address the issues raised in its review of the policy and provide the family with the support they desperately need. A new policy could positively benefit thousands of disabled children and their families.
“We hope that the changes will also help many other families in similar situations. Families of disabled children deserve to be treated fairly, have respect for their human rights and have access to the specialist support they need.” Saoirse de Bont, Public Law and Human Rights Lawyer
Dylan lives with various other conditions which affect his senses and co-ordination. In October 2021, it was reported by the Trust’s Family Assessment team that he had been displaying “verbally and physically aggressive behaviours” which were affecting Louise and Nikkita.
In July 2022, Louise requested additional support including respite through short breaks. An Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP) was also scheduled for review.
However, four months later, Louise was informed that the panel had decided Dylan didn’t meet the required criteria. The matter was returned to panel, but in February this year the same decision was made. Louise was told that Dylan’s “needs were not substantial and long-term disability at a severe or profound level” and stated that “universal targeted services” could support him.
Following the legal challenge, Dylan will now receive one hour of support every morning and one hour of support every afternoon during term time while Louise transports Nikkita to and from school. An additional three hours of support will be provided on both Saturdays and Sundays.
Louise said: “Dylan and Nikkita are my world and I’ve always done everything I can to support and care for them, but sadly I simply can’t manage Dylan’s needs on my own.
“So when I was told that he didn’t meet the criteria, I was completely devastated and had no idea how we were going to be able to continue how we were. I felt like I was already drowning and knew it was only going to get worse.
“To know that the Trust has now listened and will help us get the right care in place is amazing. I can’t describe the relief I felt when I got the news. Dylan will now get the specialist support he needs, and by the Trust reviewing their policy I’m hopeful that it will help prevent many future families from going through what we have.”
Specialist barristers Eliza Sharron and Steve Broach of 39 Essex Chambers were instructed to advise on the challenge.