20 Jul 2008

Ben Haslam; erosion of parental rights in the UK

Channel 4 news on Monday 14th July, reported on an autistic child called Ben Haslam and his parents, who say their Local Authority (LA) of Bedfordshire is forcing them to decide whether Ben should be taken into care to provide him with the services and education he needs.

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.


Casdok said...

I had also been wondering what can be done as the implications of this are frightening.
I will also write to the NAS and my MP. Thanks for the links.

Kev said...

I'm also writing to NAS and my MP.

The worrying thing is that beyond these two actions, I'm not sure what we can do.

d@\/ e said...

"it's absolutely crazy to consider that a child with Ben's difficulties will manage in a children's home"
From anything I've read or seen about the results of children living in children's homes even for a child without autism children seem to end up with problems eg alcohol/drug abuse crime etc It must be Ben's human right to live at home and not to be discriminated against and like all the other children to be provided with suitable eduction.
Could the Bedfordshire LA prove that they could provide him with the services and education he needs?

Club 166 said...

A few things strike me about this.

1) Whenever a government decides that it's spending too much money on something, it will just stop paying for it. Period. You can't be above the law if you're the one interpreting the law.

2) 250,000 pounds/year???? That's a phenomenal amount of money. It may be a great place, but I think someone is making a whole lot of money off of these kids.

3) Unfortunately, the parents are being hung out to dry, and their heads are being hoisted on stakes as a warning to any other parents that might have the audacity to question their local authority.


Sharon said...

Casdok, I read another story yesterday, about the closure of a much used and needed respite home in Derry. Again, it's all about costs. Some people need a high level of care, and a decent society is one that provides for their needs.

Dave, the council are not forcing the parents to send Ben into care, he could live at home if the parents want and just go to the local special school. But they say it doesn't meet his needs like the residential school does. The council reckon their care home will be an adequate equivalent, when it clearly couldn't be.

Joe, I agree with your points. I don't know enough about residential schools really to know why they are needed in some cases. Mike gives a little bit of information on that in my post, and I know of some parents who have had to fight to get that type of provision. Neither do I know why they are so expensive. It is probably because like so many care facilities, they are privately run and must therefore turn a profit. The state allowed these companies to take over this role in many areas, and now baulks at the cost. The school exists to teach children like Ben and presumably the other pupils are funded by their own LA. Like so man things, it will become a postcode lottery wrt services.

I just despair at the whole idea of trying to make parents voluntarily agree to give up their rights.

I was reading a bit more opinion on this here. A poster claiming to be Ben's uncle, came across badly IMO when he commented on the cost;

"Viewed on its own yes it is expensive, but compare that to the amount of money wasted by councils and us tax payers on prisons, criminals, immigrants etc, who put nothing back into society but just take, but thats another argument entirely."

As someone who was an immigrant in England for years, that sort of attitude just pisses me off. His sister might be advised to ask him not to try advocating for them. But then, that attitude works well with some people.

Club 166 said...

Just to clarify. I'm not arguing whether Ben needs residential care or not. I don't know enough about the situation to comment on that.

But I would think that any residential care would cost less than 24 hour/day care provided in the home. Even if you had two teachers full time at 50,000 pounds/year, and round the clock personal assistants at a total of 100,000 pounds/year, that's still only 200,000 pounds/year. And I think my estimates are probably generous.

When the costs for good residential care are so high it's impossible for most any family to bear those costs, meaning the government is left to foot the bill. And at such a high per person cost there is no way that this will be palatable to any government over the long haul. People have problems in our area just getting governmental supplementation for basic respite services.

So basically I agree that society (thru it's elected officials) are failing in their responsibility to care for all the people, but also that some of the private enterprises that spring up (with the hope of landing gov't contracts) overprice their services.

And parents are still left holding the bag.


gayle said...

I think this country is a joke. Why cant the goverment have there own schools up to the standard of The Shires. I have an autistic child and there is no help or compation from the goverment. You are just left to fend for yourself if you find it hard to cope then your just supposed to put your child in care. What a lovely country this is!