Couple battle council a second time over disabled daughter

By Rosa Doherty, June 19, 2014
Kenneth and Debbie Leigh want Barnet Council to pay for their daughter Sabrina to join a Jewish college

Kenneth and Debbie Leigh want Barnet Council to pay for their daughter Sabrina to join a Jewish college

A Family who fought a year-long battle to get their disabled daughter into a special Jewish school are facing a similar challenge eight years on.

Sabrina Leigh, who suffers from a type of cerebral palsy called Worster-Drought Syndrome, was initially denied the funding she needed for place at Kisharon as a 10-year-old, until Barnet Council were persuaded to reconsider.

Now, parents Kenneth and Debbie, from Edgware, are trying to get her into a college which they feel will deal with her special needs as a young adult.

But Barnet Council has once again refused to provide the funding, this time for a place at Langdon Jewish residential college in Manchester.

Barnet declined on the grounds that there are suitable alternatives locally, and her special-needs statement says she can stay at her local school, Oak Tree, for one more year, before considering a residential alternative.

Sabrina Leigh

Sabrina Leigh

But her family disagree - and have the backing of their local councillor, a Norwood social worker, as well as the college itself.

"It's happening to us all over again" said Mr Leigh, "Barnet are playing God with our lives. They are not giving us the choice to pick the right care or education for our daughter.

"We want Sabrina to live and learn in a Jewish environment. Langdon's residential college is the only Jewish option for her."

They claim she is frustrated at Oak Tree, and that her behaviour is suffering because she is not getting the therapy she needs.

"At Langdon she would get 24/7 support, and that would encourage her to live an independent life and be part of the Jewish community," added Mr Leigh.

"In a year, whatever happens, Barnet will have to pay £104,000 each year to send her to a local residential facility and that is excluding the cost of any treatment.

"Langdon would cost £68,000 per year, which after three months is reduced to £38,000 and that is inclusive of all additional therapy. Transition Social Worker for Norwood, Dee Socratous, said the charity has been working with the family for 10 years.

She wrote to Barnet's director of children's services, Penny Richardson, urging her to reconsider the Leigh's request.

She wrote: "Her needs are exceptional and warrant a placement in a specialist residential college where they will be focused on and addressed."

Barnet councillor Brian Gordon supported the family's request.

He said: "I am hopeful they might change their mind in favour of Langdon."

A spokesperson for Barnet said Sabrina was receiving "suitable educational provision" and it was important that "vulnerable adults and children were as close as possible to Barnet to enable close monitoring and supervision arrangements.

"The alternative for the student is that she attends an independent residential specialist college 200 miles away from her home."

But Mrs Leigh said the distance should not be the reason for the Council to say no.

He said: "Our other daughter has just finished a degree in Manchester. Sabrina should be no different.

"She deserves the same opportunities and chance to improve and develop an independent life."

Last updated: 4:59pm, June 19 2014