Ben has been thriving at an independent, residential school. He has made fantastic progress and is much happier and his parents, who have already spent more than £60,000 in legal costs to have Ben's needs met, were delighted. His mum's face really shone when she said,
It's a pleasure to have him around, it really is.However, even though the Haslams won their case to have Ben educated at that school, the Local Authority stopped funding his place at the end of last week, having overturned the earlier court decision forcing them to pay for his placement, at the High Court. The Haslams were forced to defend their position, but having lost, now must cover the LA's costs as well as their own.
John Friel, barrister to the Haslam family, says the case raises "important issues about parental rights and the use of voluntary powers" and that autism and parental rights charities "will be extremely concerned by this"
The LA say that the £250,000 cost of Ben's residential school entailed "unreasonable public expenditure." They postulate that Ben's needs can be met by attending the local LA run special school and living in a children's home, costing them £125,000. Effectively, they are giving the parents just one option; put your son into care. They cite a section of the 1989 Children Act, whereby a child can be taken into voluntary care, if the parents agree. The LA claim that this "does not remove parental rights but promotes partnership in meeting a child's needs."
John Friel ends by saying the council's attempt to impose a voluntary care order on good parents, "is objectionable both morally and politically."
He is right.
This whole thing stinks. Ben was being failed by his LA run special school, and in common with a very small number of children, needed the level of care and consistency provided by the residential school. It's absolutely crazy to consider that a child with Ben's difficulties will manage in a children's home. He would be miserable. It would undo all that he has achieved in the past year. His parents must not be forced to make "voluntary" arrangements to put him in care. The LA staff who came up with this plan to save them a bit of money, obviously care nothing for this child or his family. They are squeezing them emotionally and financially. Ben's parents have been forced to give up their life savings, and now to pay the LA legal costs too! Then they are expected to give up their parental rights and in exchange see their beloved son fail in a system that cannot possibly meet his needs.
I'll be writing to the NAS about this. I'm not sure what else to do. I could contact my MP too. If anyone has any ideas of how we can support Ben and his family, and stop this attempt to erode our parental rights, please leave a comment.
There is more coverage of this at Left Brain/Right Brain and (I've just discovered) Action for Autism. As Mike mentions, there are some very interesting comments on the BBC Ouch boards too, including a few from a Bedforshire LA employee.