She was provided with a leaflet.

Flicking though the current (March 2023) batch of Local Government Ombudsman’s Children and Education complaints decisions is like re-watching Groundhog Days.  More than half of the complaints were not, for one reason or another, investigated and of the remainder, most resulted in a wrist slapping at worst.  For me, one decision (on the face of it mundane) sums up the shocking ‘new normal’ of the ombudsman’s approach.[1]

In January 2020, a mother of a child with autism (among other impairments) approached her council for a Parent Carers Needs Assessment (PCNA) as she needed support because of her own health needs which were exacerbated by her caring responsibilities for her daughter and her elderly mother.

The Council sent her a PCNA form[2] which she completed and returned, together with a request for ‘short breaks’.  The request was refused by the short breaks ‘panel’ which decided that she should be advised to approach CAMHS [Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services] and Family Therapy instead.

She was then advised that she should contact family support services for an Early Intervention Single Assessment.

In June 2020 she approached the council again, asking how parents in her situation could receive an assessment.  The council’s policy was that children with autism were only able to be assessed by its Disabled Children’s Team (DCT) if they also had a formal diagnosis of a moderate or severe learning disability’[3] (which diagnosis her child lacked).  The council then agreed that the DCT could, nevertheless, undertake a PCNA.  This concluded (in July 2020) that she should receive an assessment through ‘Gateway to Care’ due to her having a ‘duel [sic] caring responsibility’.  She was then advised to approach the Adults Social Care team to request an assessment of the caring role she provided for her elderly mother.

She expressed her dissatisfaction with this response and the Council then agreed that the DCT could undertake an assessment of her daughter’s needs.  As a result, at the end of September it then recommended that the case go back to the short breaks panel.  In due course the panel decided that short breaks support should be provided.

The mother’s complaint that the system was ‘difficult to navigate’ was considered and rejected by the ombudsman, stating (at para 22):

I have reviewed the Council’s Local Offer for children with special educational needs or disabilities. In my view, this page contains helpful information about requesting assessments and provides a leaflet outlining the process.


In ‘Clustered injustice and the level green[4] I consider the trauma caused to families who are required to navigate tortuous systems of this kind.  I liken it to a parent being the pinball in a pinball machine to:

have some idea of what it feels like to be trying to address the multiple rebuffs [a mother] experiences when trying to access the essential legal entitlements that she, and maybe her child, needs in order to function.  But she is not a silver ball, she is flesh and blood rammed, repulsed and ricocheting within not one unfeeling hard machine, but in multiple machines in multiple directions.


The council in question had failed to comply with its legal duties; its short breaks panel had repulsed her application and sent her to CAMHS and Family Therapy and she was then flipped to family support services for an Early Intervention Single Assessment, and having been rejected by the DCT she was bounced down a ‘Gateway to Care’, flipped to the Adults Social Care team and nine months later returned to where she started – the short breaks panel.  Having described the complainant’s traumatic journey, the ombudsman rejects the suggestion of maladministration on the grounds the Council’s ‘Local Offer’ webpage ‘contains helpful information about requesting assessments and provides a leaflet outlining the process’. 

It is simply shocking to think that the regulator considers this to be an acceptable public service .



[1] Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council (22 003 802) 7 February 2023

[2] The Children Act 1989 sections 17ZD and 17ZE oblige local authorities to assess parent carers on the ‘appearance of need’ – see generally chapter 12 L Clements ‘Carers and their Rights’ (2018) and although local authorities  can provide carers with assessment forms in advance ‘such forms can help prepare for an assessment [but] best practice suggests that they cannot replace face-to-face assessment’ Department of Health Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000: Carers and people with parental responsibility for disabled children – Practice Guidance para 61.

[3] See Calderdale Council ‘Disabled Children’s leaflet’: it has been argued that such policies constitute unlawful discrimination contrary to the Equality Act 2010 see P Bahri, L Clements, A Aiello and T Hutchinson Unlawful restrictions on the rights of disabled children with autism to social care needs assessments (Cerebra 2020).

[4] The L Clements ‘Clustered injustice and the level green’ Legal Action 2020, p94 and see also pp36-37.

Posted 29 March 2023.