'They're dangling her on a string' - parents fight to send disabled daughter to Jewish college (From Times Series)
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'They're dangling her on a string' - Edgware parents fight to send disabled daughter to Jewish college
The parents of a disabled teenager have accused councillors of “playing God” with her life after they refused to pay for her place at a tailor-made residential unit.
Sabrina Leigh, of Glengall Road, Edgware, has a rare form of cerebral palsy and needs 24 hour care, so was offered a place at Langdon Jewish College, in Manchester.
But Barnet Borough Council has rejected an application to pay for the £68,000 school fees, claiming there are enough services to support the 18-year-old locally.
Sabrina, who has the mental ability of a seven-year-old, is currently a pupil at Oak Tree, in Southgate, where the authority says she should complete a third year.
Her father, Kenneth Leigh, said: “They’ve just dangled us on a string. It’s been a war and a battle when we’re supposed to be moving our daughter towards a better life.
“We know it is far but it’s absolutely vital she stays in Jewish care and Langdon really is tailor made for her. Her needs are getting more and more extreme and we can’t cope.
“They’re playing God with her life. It’s like taking candy from a baby. She’s worried about what might happen to her next year, we all are.”
Although it would cost a maximum of £68,000 a year to send her to Langdon, this could go down to £38,000 after she has spent a few months at the college.
After completing a third term at Oak Trees, she would then have to move into a residential unit with Jewish charity Norwood – which would cost Barnet a minimum of £102,000 a year.
Her mother, Debbie Leigh, who is separated from Sabrina’s father, is her daughter’s full time carer – but was left exhausted after her own breast cancer diagnosis.
As a result, Sabrina was moved into Valley Way Residential Centre, in Barnet – which her parents claim is “not the right place” for her.
Mrs Leigh said: “Deaf people are given hearing aids, blind people walking sticks, but what about people like Sabrina?
“Langdon is the ideal place for her, it would be perfect. There we’ll know she’s safe. There’s no logic, it would be cheaper to send her to Langdon.
“Instead, the council is making her spend a third year at Oak Trees, learning the same old sums in a babyish way.”
Her family have until next Thursday (June 26) to accept the place at Langdon. Sabrina, whose condition is known as Worcester-Bar Syndrome, has behaviour problems which can sometimes include violence, struggles to speak and also has epilepsy.
Despite her condition, she loves The X-Factor, dancing, soaps and is a “very bubbly” teenager who enjoys spending time with her older sister, Melissa.
Mrs Leigh added: “We won’t give up on our daughter, she is our everything.”
The family’s plight has been supported by MP Matthew Offord and Conservative Councillor for Edgware, Brian Gordon.
Cllr Gordon said: “In my view, the desire of Sabrina’s parents to send her to Langdon College is a very reasonable one. I have heard no convincing reason as to why the council shouldn’t support it.
“I hope there will be a change of heart.”
Barnet Borough Council said students at Oak Trees spend three years there before graduating.
They said her parents could lodge an appeal with the SEN Tribunal if they were unhappy with the decision.
It added: “The council aims to make provision for its vulnerable adults and children as close as possible to Barnet.
“Provision is available for this young person locally – both for her supported living and for her education.
“An assessment would be carried out based on the student’s individual needs, including cultural and religious needs, looking at all available resources in the area.
“Any decision needs to take into account the efficient use of the council’s resources for the whole community of Barnet, including other vulnerable young adults.”
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