Autistic boy faces life far away from his family as Tonbridge school stops care

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A CHILD with autism could be separated from his home and family because a school in Tonbridge has said it cannot cope with looking after him.

Twelve-year-old William Lunn has attended Nexus Foundation Special School in Brook Street since 2016 but it now says it can no longer provide the necessary level of care.

Instead Kent County Council [KCC] has offered a residential place at Stone Bay School in Broadstairs – 50 miles away from his family.

His parents Chris and Helen, who live in Leybourne, have launched a petition calling on County Hall to find an alternative solution. KCC and Nexus declined to answer questions about William’s plight.

Mr Lunn said: ‘Nexus have stated they cannot sustain the level of care that William needs. He has one-to-one support, sometimes two-to-one. They feel that in the long term this cannot be sustained.’

He says the school and authorities are not being open about what additional levels of support would be required for Nexus to meet his son’s needs.

‘I am not sure what it would take, and when we asked the question at our last meeting with the school and council, their response was vague,’ he said.

‘He can exhibit challenging behaviours when anxious. This can take the form of just collapsing on the floor, or in some cases slapping.’ But he added: ‘We find him manageable at home.

‘We believe that if Stone Bay have the resource to cater for him then it should be possible to provide a similar resource at his current school.’

‘William’s needs have not changed; if anything, he is less challenging than he has been in the past. We do not believe his behaviour has deteriorated.

Mr Lunn notes that Stone Bay’s 24/7 provision would cost more and wants to know why the extra money cannot be used to boost Nexus’s resources.

He said: ‘Surely providing residential care must be more expensive than day care. Would it not be cheaper to give Nexus extra funding to look after him?’

He is certain that taking William away from his home, parents and sister Catherine, nine, would be harmful to the boy.

‘William finds the world difficult to cope with,’ said Mr Lunn. ‘He doesn’t know how to deal with unexpected change. The world can be a frightening place for him.

‘William relies on us to be his anchor. He trusts that if we are there, then it’s probably OK.

‘He will be unable to understand why he has been moved or separated from his family.’

‘No family of a normal child would accept their 12-year-old child being moved from their home against their wishes, and yet because William is disabled, that seems to be acceptable.’

Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling, told the Times: ‘I spoke to Mr Lunn to try to help his family find a solution that works for them.

‘The anxiety and stress on William must be immense, particularly as Mr Lunn has made clear that William’s autism makes it hard for him to understand everything that is happening around him. I’m determined that we should explore every option to find the best solution for William and his family.’

Mr Lunn says they could take care of William, but that attending a school is important in helping him to interact with the outside world.

‘One option would be to home educate,’ he said. ‘But he would lose the normal socialisation that he would gain from a school setting with those trained to develop his understanding of the world and provide a suitable education. We are not trained to do this at home.

‘We feel that attending school during the day is good for his development. It seems unfair that children such as William could be nudged out of the state education system. But in the end we will always act in William’s best interests.’

Before Nexus he had attended Milestone Academy in New Ash Green since the age of four.

Mr Lunn says: ‘When he was at Milestone he did demonstrate considerable behavioural issues, particularly during 2014.

‘He started taking [antipsychotic medication] risperidone in 2015 to reduce anxiety, since when his behaviour has been greatly improved.’

His parents made sure that Nexus would be able to offer the necessary care before he arrived.

‘We were very careful to explain William’s past behavioural issues and urged them to only accept him if they were sure that they could support him,’ said Mr Lunn.

As the district special school for Tonbridge & Malling, Nexus received millions of pounds of funding to open a new campus last September.

It can accommodate 186 pupils – and is due to open a satellite site at Wouldham in September, which will provide a further 48 places.

A KCC statement said: ‘We understand this is a difficult time for them. However, we must ensure every child is educated in a school that is appropriate for their needs, in terms of specialist provision and staffing. In some cases this means a residential placement is required.’

It added: ‘We don’t take decisions such as these lightly and we would not move a child into a residential setting without first exploring all other available options, including funding additional support at their current setting.’

Charity hits out at councils

Tim Nicholls, Policy Manager at the National Autistic Society, told the Times: ‘This must be an extraordinarily difficult time for William and his family. Every family and child has the right to expect they will get the education and support they need close to home.

‘But too many autistic children and parents face long and exhausting battles to get this.

‘Children can end up out of school for months or even years, losing the chance to learn basic skills and becoming isolated from their peers.

‘Local councils need to make sure they understand children’s needs in their area and have the right school places locally. Too many councils don’t do this well enough.

‘We’re calling on the Government to develop a national autism and education strategy so there are clear expectations for every area.’

PICTURE: FAMILY VALUES: William Lunn, 12, may have to live 60 miles away from his mum and dad, Helen and Chris, and sister Catherine

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