Westminster mum’s ‘living hell’ as she battles red tape for autistic son

A single mother desperately trying to keep her autistic son in the school he loves says she has been driven to her wit’s end, spending at least three hours each day on the school run after being rehoused on the other side of the capital.

The woman, who the Wood&Vale has named Jacqueline, 41, said her son has flourished at St Edward’s primary school in Lisson Grove, and she fears that moving him to another school would be even more disruptive than the “living hell” she currently endures.

In a bid to do the best for her seven-year-old son, who has a mental age of four and needs stability and familiarity, she gets them up at 5.45am each day to walk, catch a bus and then a Tube though central London to get to school for 9am.

She stays in Westminster all day rather than undergo the return journey, and when they get home at around 6pm, she has about an hour to feed, wash and play with her son before his bedtime, she says.

“I feel like a hamster on a wheel,” Jacqueline said. “I am exhausted. I spend an hour getting him up, he sits on the Underground and screams all the time in front of people, and I always take an empty bottle with me because he needs to wee on the train.”

But she is in limbo, still waiting for Westminster Council to provide her son with a statement of special educational needs (SEN) so he can continue to attend the school he has been settled at since September.

The assessment started when the family lived in temporary accommodation, in a hotel in Salisbury Road, Queen’s Park, after her private landlord sold her flat in Park West, off Edgware Road, Paddington.

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Last month Westminster rehoused Jacqueline and her son, in Dagenham, Essex.

She said: “The school has been incredibly supportive and helpful. The people around him who take care of him are very nice and are writing letters to the council.

“But [the council] said now they cannot give me a statement for him because I no longer live in Westminster. If they gave me the statement then he will be recognised as disabled and they will have to give me more [housing] points, and I would be near the top of the waiting list for a home closer to the school. They play with the law.”

Kate Williams, head of policy and public affairs for the national charity Ambitious About Autism, said: “All too often we hear from parents that when they move into a new local authority, they have to restart the process of getting support for their child with special education needs from scratch.

“It is crucial that local authorities work together when young people with autism move between boroughs, so that the young person doesn’t miss school, parents don’t face another battle, and local authorities themselves don’t waste their resources on assessments that have been done before.”

A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: “Demand for affordable council housing continues to greatly outstrip supply in Westminster, but we endeavour to place families as quickly as possible in the most suitable accommodation available.”

They said Jacqueline turned down a flat offered to them in Portobello, but she said she decided it was unsuitable after finding two “junkies” on the steps and the front door ajar, leaving them both vulnerable.

The spokesman added: “SEN statements must be issued by the borough in which a family currently resides, so the decision on whether to issue a statement rests with Barking and Dagenham.

“Most mainstream schools offer SEN provision, so it is entirely up to the family whether they would prefer to retain their place at St Edward’s or transfer to a local school closer to their home.”