May 22 2013 Latest news:
by Flora Drury
Thursday, July 26, 2012
A distraught Wood Green family is set to sue after their disabled daughter went missing for three hours before the people paid to look after her even realised.
Tanya Smith – who has Down’s Syndrome, cannot speak and communicates with sign language –went missing for eight hours after staff from care centre Development and Learning Opportunities (DALO) miscounted the number of people on a bus back from a trip to Hollywood Bowl in East Finchley last Wednesday afternoon.
It sparked a London-wide hunt and left her parents Reuben and Carol sick with worry while they waited for news of their daughter.She was finally found 20 miles from home.
The 19-year-old had been going to the newly-opened centre in Wood Green – which helps people with learning difficulties live independently – for just a few days when the incident happened.
The first indication Mr Smith had anything was wrong was when the bus driver – who had been picking Tanya up and dropping her back each day – came to the door with her bag saying his daughter had left it behind.
But Tanya had not been brought home yet, prompting the bus driver to return to the centre as he believed this was where she was.
A short while later, Mr Smith got a call. He said: “My wife rang me screaming ‘they do not know where she is’.”
Tanya had in fact been missing for almost three hours. When police questioned staff, none could remember the last time they had seen her. Mr Smith said: “They sent out helicopters and they could not find her. It was terrible.”
CCTV showed Tanya leaving the bowling alley and getting on a bus. Eventually, she ended up in Asda, where she picked up some colouring books and pens.
Tanya then got on another bus, which she stayed on until it reached the end of its route.
It was then the bus driver realised the young woman was alone and called a control room.
Tanya was in New Malden, south London – almost 20 miles away from the bowling alley.
Council officers met the family last Friday to apologise for the distress caused and offer additional support, even though the centre is independent of the council.
A spokesman said: “Our immediate investigation shows that whilst DALO had the proper procedures in place they were not followed on this occasion.
“This is clearly a concern to us and we will be working with DALO to ensure they tighten up their procedures and checks so that an incident of this nature doesn’t occur again.
“Until we have completed our investigations and are assured the necessary safeguards are in place we will not be referring any other people to use the services of DALO.”
But the family say they now intend to sue the centre, which has another branch in Kilburn, for negligence.
Mr Smith said: “They left her at the bowling alley. They took all the other kids home before they realised they had left her.”
DALO has failed to respond to the Journal’s repeated calls for a comment.