Allegations of fabricated or induced illness (FII) against parents are on the increase from councils trying to avoid paying for special needs services.
That’s the claim from the Facebook support group Fiightback. Concerned parents set the group up at the end of last year.
Education lawyer Nathan Davies: he says allegations of fabricated illness have been rising
Leigh Jackman is one of the founder members. She says pressure on councils since the introduction of education, health and care plans (EHCPs) is one of the main factors driving the allegations.
Budget cuts for doctors and schools are also fuelling the increase, Jackman said.
‘Masterclasses’ in FII
She accused councils of running “masterclasses” on FII for staff.
She said these classes highlight a range of conditions as a sign that parents are fabricating child’s difficulties. The conditions include autism, gastrointestinal problems, allergies and Ehlers-Danlos syndromes, which affect the joints.
One mother, whom we cannot name for legal reasons, said her local authority attempted to have her two daughters, aged 12 and five, taken into care.
The mother says her elder daughter has been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and social communication disorder.
But the mother says the child’s school claimed she had fabricated the conditions.
She says the local authority took a case against her, claiming she invented the conditions to gain state benefits.
‘So much stress’ for daughters
However, the local authority lost the case. For the mother, winning the case was a bitter victory because it caused “so much stress” for her daughters.
Education law solicitor Nathan Davies said some councils use social services departments to “discredit” parents.
Davies said authorities accuse parents of failing to impose “appropriate boundaries”.
Cardiff-based Davies, of HCB Widdows Mason, said cases of FII have “certainly gone up in the last two years”.
A Local Government Association spokesman said the introduction of EHCPs was “significantly underfunded”. The Government must “urgently provide additional funding”, he said.
The Department for Education says it gave councils £223m extra to help introduce EHCPs.
The mother of a boy with autism is fighting to stop plans for more than £20m in cuts to special needs services in Surrey.
Alicia McColl, whose 14-year-old son Kian Hollow has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), has crowdfunded a legal challenge.
Alicia McColl with son Kian: she is crowdfunding to stop Surrey Council slashing special needs spending
Range of cuts in Surrey
Surrey plans a range of cuts to its 2017/18 budget. Among these are to slash £2.3m from special schools and £1.5m from transport. It also plans to chop £1m from post-16 services and £1m from early years support.
Project Management officer McColl, 44, from Farnham in Surrey, fears she is already feeling the impact of the cuts.
The authority wants to review Kian’s education, health and care plan in the summer. It only completed the plan in January.
Fear over planned review
McColl fears Surrey will try to end a commitment to one-to-one support for her son during the review.
She said cuts to early years could “really impact” on children’s experiences at school because it is “such an important” period.
McColl wants lawyers Irwin Mitchell to begin a judicial review to ensure Surrey’s final decision is lawful.
She wants families directly impacted by the cuts to contact her to help strengthen the legal challenge.
‘Steep rise’ in numbers
Surrey County Council said money from central government has not kept pace with a “steep rise” in the numbers of children with special needs.
Though funding has risen, cost pressures are “outstripping the increase”, a spokesperson added.
A spokesperson from the Department for Education said: “Our priority is putting the needs of families at the heart of the special educational needs system. That is why we have introduced the biggest reforms to special educational needs and disability support in a generation and introduced Education, Health and Care plans, that are tailored to the needs of the child or young person and will be available to over 250,000 people by March 2018.
“We have given councils £223m extra funding to help them introduce these reforms successfully and a further £60m to fund independent supporters in every local authority to help families to navigate the system.
“We are beginning to see positive feedback as a result of the new system, with 73 per cent of parents and young people saying that they are now getting the help that they needed.”
Exceeded original target
McColl started fundraising for her legal challenge last Monday (5 March). By Thursday she had already exceeded her original target of £2,600.
Voyage Care is the leading specialist provider for people with learning disabilities and other complex care needs. We offer person-centred pathways of support in both people’s own homes and registered care homes.
At Voyage Care, we believe every person has the right to live the life they want. We help support people to live where, how and with whom they choose.
We are experienced in enabling people to move from residential settings to supported living as their confidence and independence grows.
Person-centred care and support
We are committed to providing person-centred, high-quality care and support. Our sector-leading CQC compliance averages 93% Good, with four services rated as Outstanding.
Around 20% of the 3500+ people we support across the UK are autistic. Our individualised approach to supporting autistic people is based around each person’s unique abilities, interests and preferences.
We have 37 specialist autism services that are either accredited or working towards accreditation with the National Autistic Society.
Slindon College is an Independent specialist day and boarding school which offers outstanding support and pastoral care for boys aged 8 to 18 with learning challenges in a variety of areas, particularly mild/high functioning ASD.
Between 75 and 90 boys attend the school at any one time, with typical class sizes of six to eight and never more than 12.
Emphasis on individual support
All classes enjoy the benefit of at least one Learning Support Assistant in addition to the subject specialist. The staff: pupil ratio is also high and there is great emphasis on supporting individual needs.
Day boys are admitted from Year 4 and boarders from Year 6. There is a thriving Sixth Form, where pupils can study a variety of Level 3 courses and many of whom go on to study at university. There is also a purpose-built bespoke “primary” department for boys in years 4, 5 & 6.
Academic and practical subjects
While being a specialist mainstream school delivering all the usual academic subjects, boys are also able to pursue practical, “hands-on” subjects to examination level. These include food technology, photography, graphics, textiles, motor mechanics and horticulture.
On average, our pupils obtain one grade higher at the end of their examinations in Year 11 than predicted on entry. Those who would not thrive in the hurly-burly environment of a bigger school will flourish in the small, caring, highly supportive community of Slindon College.
A wide and varied enrichment activities programme, embedded within the school day, encourages the pursuit of drama, outdoor activities and sport. We also have a variety of animals within our small farmyard area, including alpacas and donkeys.
Slindon College tailored curriculum
Our curriculum is tailored to meet the needs of the boys, providing help with literacy and numeracy difficulties, such as dyslexia and dyspraxia. Slindon College is also able to support boys with AD(H)D and mild ASD, such as Asperger’s Syndrome.
The College enjoys a rural setting at the foot of the South Downs in an area of outstanding natural beauty, with unobstructed views to the south coast. This enables us to host a variety of animals within our small farmyard area, including alpacas and donkeys.
Researchers have developed tests they say can indicate autism in children and may lead to earlier treatment.
The scientists, based at the University of Warwick, have developed blood and urine tests. They believe the tests are the first of their kind.
The researchers say the tests could lead to earlier detection of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Consequently, doctors would be able to give appropriate treatment to children with autism much earlier in their lives.
The tests search for damage to proteins in blood plasma. The team believes this damage is linked to autism.
Tests ‘may reveal new causative factors’
Dr Naila Rabbani, Reader of Experimental Systems Biology at the University of Warwick, led the team. She said: “Our discovery could lead to earlier diagnosis and intervention.”
She added: “We hope the tests will also reveal new causative factors. With further testing we may reveal specific plasma and urinary profiles, or ‘fingerprints’, of compounds with damaging modifications.
“This may help us improve the diagnosis of ASD and point the way to new causes of ASD.”
Link found to blood plasma damage
The team found a link between ASD and damage to proteins in blood plasma by oxidation and glycation. These are processes where reactive oxygen species (ROS) and sugar molecules spontaneously modify proteins.
Lead researcher Dr Naila Rabbani: “Our discovery could lead to earlier diagnosis and intervention”
Crucially, the researchers found the most reliable of the tests they developed was examining protein in blood plasma.
When tested, they found children with ASD to have higher levels of the oxidation marker dityrosine (DT) and certain sugar-modified compounds called “advanced glycation endproducts” (AGEs).
The university says that existing research has found genetic causes in 30 to 35 per cent of cases of ASD.
It adds that a combination of environmental factors, multiple mutations and rare genetic variants are thought to be behind the remaining 65 to 70 per cent of cases.
However, the research team also believes that the new tests could reveal yet-to-be-identified causes of ASD.
The team’s research also confirmed the previously held belief that mutations of amino acid transporters are a genetic variant associated with ASD.
Collaboration between universities
The research team involved academics at a number of universities. These included the University of Warwick’s Warwick Systems Biology group, the University of Birmingham, the University of Bologna, the Institute of Neurological Sciences in Bologna, and the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation ONLUS in Milan.
The University of Bologna recruited locally 38 children (29 boys and nine girls) between the ages of five and 12 with a diagnosis of ASD. It also recruited a control group of 31 neurotypical children (23 boys and eight girls) of the same age group. It took blood and urine samples from the children for analysis.
Test ‘better than any method currently available’
The Warwick team discovered there were chemical differences between the two groups. Working with a further collaborator at the University of Birmingham, the team used artificial intelligence to develop a mathematical equation, or algorithm, to distinguish between ASD and healthy controls. The outcome was a diagnostic test that it says is better than any method currently available.
The researchers plan to repeat the study with further groups of children to confirm the good diagnostic performance. They also intend to assess if the test can identify ASD at very early stages. Other ambitions are to indicate how the ASD is likely to develop further and to assess if treatments are working.
There are calls for the National Autistic Society (NAS) to rethink its involvement in the care sector if it cannot set the highest standards. The move follows the national charity’s failure to protect residents in its care against abuse.
Steve Broach, barrister and leading disability rights campaigner, has highlighted the need for the charity to set a benchmark. He was speaking out after reports of abuse at the NAS-run Mendip House in Somerset.
The Somerset Safeguarding Adults Board (SSAB) catalogued mistreatment of vulnerable residents at Mendip House following tip-offs from whisteblowers.
Scene of the abuse: Mendip House, which housed six people with autism and complex needs, was part of Somerset Court
The facility, set within a complex known as Somerset Court, housed six people with autism and complex needs. It has since closed and the former residents have moved to different facilities.
Reports of abuse go back to 2014
Reports of abuse at Mendip House, which housed residents between the ages of 25 and 64, go back as far as 2014. The SSAB review recorded how staff threw food at residents, gave them chillies to eat, threw residents into a swimming pool and took their money to fund their own entertainment.
Steve Broach said: “In my view, the only justification for a national charity running services that can only benefit a handful of individuals is that these services act as an exemplar of what can be provided to all.”
He added: “What was going on at Mendip House was about as far from ‘outstanding’ care as it’s possible to get, as the NAS recognized by closing the service.”
The NAS is reported to have registered 58 residential and community services across England. These provide around 250 beds.
However, the charity has previously been shown not to be fully safeguarding its service users from abuse.
In 2013, the Care Quality Commission announced enforcement action against the NAS following its inspection of Orchard House in Bideford, Devon.
The Commission found an ‘excessive’ use of seclusion and restraint at the site, which was a specialist school for students with autism of age 16 and older. Inspectors also discovered a person naked in the site’s grounds.
Local authorities did not ask ‘searching questions’
The revelations at Mendip House have sparked calls for local authorities to examine how they manage placements. The SSAB review criticized them for not asking “searching questions about the benefits of residents being placed at Mendip House”.
Meanwhile, the NAS has strenuously denied allegations of a ‘cover up’. These allegations have been circulating around social media since the news about Mendip House became public.
In a statement, the NAS said: “There has been no cover up or attempt by the charity to hide what happened at Mendip House.”
NAS not doing enough to protect residents
However, the SSAB review criticized the NAS for not doing enough to protect residents when it knew about the abuse. The NAS also came in for criticism for not sharing the problem with outside agencies.
The SSAB review said the NAS had “more evidence of the degradation of residents by its employees than it shared with SCC and the Care Quality Commission or with Local Authorities”.
Although the NAS has taken disciplinary action against staff at Mendip House, there are no plans to prosecute. A statement from Avon and Somerset Police said “the evidential test required to bring criminal charges was not met”.
The DWP will review around 1.6 million claims, with about 220,000 people expected to get more money.
It resolved to carry out the review after deciding not to challenge a court ruling.
The ruling said benefit changes brought in through PIP were unfair to people with mental health conditions.
Richard Kramer is Sense’s deputy chief executive.
He urged the Government to “seize the moment” to review assessments carried out for the PIP.
Kramer added: “We want a system that promotes people’s dignity rather than overwhelming people with anxiety and worry for those that rely on this essential support.”
‘Disgraceful’ decisions made in assessments
David Matthews, a volunteer with Worcester Citizens Advice, recently told Autism Eye that officials were making “disgraceful” decisions when people move from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to the PIP.
The UK government is rolling out the PIP to replace DLA.
A DWP spokesperson said following the court ruling it would write to all those who may be entitled to more support, and no-one would have a reassessment.
More than 200,000 more people with mental health conditions receive the higher rate of the daily living component of PIP than did under DLA, the spokesperson added.
In addition, the DWP claims spending has gone up on the “main disability benefits” by £4.1bn since 2010.