Statutory guidance states that local authorities must ensure that all frontline staff have general autism awareness so staff can identify potential signs of autism, understand how to make reasonable adjustments in their behaviour and communication.
The Autism Act 2009 required the government to produce statutory guidance for NHS and local authorities on working with autistic people. The guidance was originally published in 2010, and was updated in 2015. At paragraph 1.4, it says:
In line with the 2010 statutory guidance, local authorities should be providing
general autism awareness to all frontline staff in contact with adults with autism, so that staff are able to identify potential signs of autism and understand how to make reasonable adjustments in their behaviour and communication.
In addition to this, local authorities are expected to have made good progress on developing and providing specialist training for those in roles that have a direct impact on and make decisions about the lives of adults with autism, including those conducting needs assessments.
This expectation remains central to this updated statutory guidance”.
- Salford City Council (19 002 111)
Mrs W was autistic and had a number of health needs which caused her to need support. Mrs W had never had a financial assessment and her care plan was both several years out of date and incomplete. This resulted in a dispute between herself and her support provider, and a complaint to the Council.
The LGO firstly highlighted that having a care plan so out of date and inadequate put Mrs W at an increased risk of harm, which was fault. An inadequate assessment leads to inadequate care, leading to (an increased) risk of harm.
The updated government 2015 statutory guidance under the Autism Act places a requirement on local authorities to provide general autism awareness training for all front line staff, as well as specialist training for those in particular roles.
The Council had not implemented this, which was fault. They had no-one trained in autism to undertake assessments. However, the LGO could not demonstrate that Mrs W suffered any actual injustice.
- Staffordshire County Council
Mr B had Asperger’s syndrome, a learning disability and OCD. The dispute with his Council related to his wish to move to supported living, which the Council felt his lower level of needs did not justify.
Mr B’s lawyer arranged for an assessment to be carried out by an independent autism specialist. This concluded that the Council’s assessment was flawed because it did not offer insight into Mr B’s communication difficulties and rigid thinking.
The specialist found that Mr B’s care and support needs had been significantly underestimated and the Council was failing to meet them: Mr B needed support from staff with a good understanding and experience of working with autistic adults.
The LGO found fault because the Council was unable to provide any evidence that its officers had autism training or previous experience of working with adults with autism. The Act places a legal requirement on local authorities that all assessors must have the skills, knowledge and competence to carry out the assessment in question.
Guidance also states that if an assessor does not have experience in a particular condition (such as autism), they must consult someone with relevant experience”. There was no evidence that they consulted specialists in relation to Mr B’s autism. Had they done so, the outcome of the assessment may have been different, and thereby the LGO could show that Mr B was caused a significant injustice.
3. Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (18 014 455)
Miss X had highly complex needs including Atypical Autism, learning disabilities and dyslexia. She was also diagnosed with a “communication disorder affecting both her receptive and expressive language skills”.
After a hospital stay, Miss X was discharged to Hostel H. It was clear that she was troubled and vulnerable. Her family requested safeguarding procedures begin, as they felt she was at risk of harm. Miss X was never formally given a care assessment and no safeguarding procedures were properly completed. A Learning Review began, but was not completed (Miss X passed away).
The LGO quoted the (NICE) Quality Standard on Autism (2014), which sets out minimum standards for delivery of services to those with autism. It says, ‘All health and social care practitioners involved in working with, assessing, caring for and treating people with autism should have sufficient and appropriate training and competencies to deliver the actions and interventions described in the quality standard’.
The Learning Review found some officers did not fully understand Miss D’s needs resulting from her autism and, therefore, the best way to communicate with her. The Council’s said it had no record of the duty housing officer who interviewed Miss D receiving any autism training. As a result, the Council missed an opportunity to communicate in the most effective way with Miss D. This was fault.
Again, the LGO emphasised the link of lack of autism support, back to inadequate, or in this case, a complete lack of a care plan or assessment. Without an up to date care plan, needs cannot be properly identified and the Council cannot plan how they will meet those needs. Notwithstanding the duty to assess any adult with an appearance of need for care and support, Miss D had strong indications of eligible needs.
The LGO went into great length about the Council’s failings to properly assess, start safeguarding procedures, and delays in general. However mention of autism training was brief.
So it is noteworthy that the remedies across the three cases included:
- Arranging for all relevant staff to receive appropriate training on autism and making reasonable adjustments
- Reviewing of assessment(s) by appropriately trained/ skilled persons and/ or a specialist assessor
- Financial payment to redress fault.
It is also noteworthy that the LGO in all cases highlighted the importance of care plans when assessing Council failings.
The LGO was readier to find a Council at fault for inadequate assessments, rather than inadequate autism training.
The LGO could find the causal link, the actual injustice caused to the complainant, by comparing the care they received and the care they should have been receiving according to their plan (or their last plan).
In comparison with issues to do with autism training, the level of detail discussed by the LGO was brief. (See for example decision one, where no injustice was identified from the lack of autism training)
Considerations/ learning for all public authorities:
- Is autism awareness training for all front line staff (including LA and CCG staff) mandatory and appropriately refreshed?
- Do training records evidence compliance with statutory / NICE requirements across SW practice?
- Are we confident that staff know when to seek additional specialist support?
- Are staff with additional specialist autism skills available, either to undertake assessments etc or to support those who are doing so? If yes, from where / whom / and within what timeframe?
- Are all relevant staff able to recognise the need to make reasonable adjustments and adequately skilled in making such adjustments, to avoid discrimination?
- Communication needs are a theme across these three decisions: how do we ensure that our communication with individuals takes account of their communication needs e.g. needs are noted at first contact and further routine opportunities thereafter, so that information is provided in a format they can understand?
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