Walsall Council sorry for 'distressing' girl over school move

A council has apologised for causing "serious distress" to a vulnerable 13-year-old girl by trying to force her to move schools.

A council has apologised for causing "serious distress" to a "vulnerable" 13-year-old girl by trying to force her to move schools.

Walsall Council wanted to save money by moving the girl, who cannot be named, to a school closer to her home.

A report by the Local Government Ombudsman said she was settled at her current residential school and found the prospect of moving "upsetting."

The council said it was now "working closely" with the girl and her carers.

The report by Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), Dr Jane Martin, said the girl had been placed at the residential school at the end of 2011.

In July 2012, the council's education panel decided to withdraw funding for her placement because it considered the girl not to have special educational needs.

The authority did not hold a care planning meeting with the school and did not take into account the girl's wishes, the report said.

It said despite the council telling the girl on a number of occasions she would be moving it was clear she "did not want to move and found the prospect seriously distressing".

'Legal obligations'

Dr Martin said: "The council maintained their path of moving the girl, when numerous parties, including the school, her advocate, my investigator and The Office of the Children's Rights Director strongly advised against it, leaving her distressed and with very little stability in her life.

"While I appreciate the financial constraints that councils are under in the current economic climate, this in no way gives them licence to ignore their legal obligations."

Rachel Andrew, cabinet member for children's services at Walsall Council said: "We have apologised directly to the teenager.

"We are now working with her and her carers to ensure that we listen to her wishes and feelings and that the support we give her helps her to realise her ambitions.

"We recognise our responsibility to champion children and listen to their voice and views very seriously."

Dr Martin recommended that the council hold £1,000 in trust for the girl over the next three years to cover her education, training and leisure expenses.

She also called for the council to review its procedures on plans to end school placements and provide better training for social workers to deal with such cases.

The council said it was "working closely with the Ombudsman to address the recommendations in the report".

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