Pathfinders, politics and parental co-production

Last Friday, our parent-carer forum in Surrey, Family Voice joined with Surrey LA and local voluntary and community services to host an SEN reform pathfinder update.

Surrey is one of 31 Local Authorities that make up the 20 pathfinder areas, with Surrey being part of the largest group, the SE7.

We had a great line-up of guests including Stephen Kingdom from the DfE, SEN barrister Gulshanah Choudhuri and Susie Campbell, the woman who has been responsible for pulling together all Surrey’s different streams of work for the pathfinder trials – a huge job.

This was an important conference and the right time to update parents whose children these reforms will affect. The draft bill was published last September and since then it has been picked over by parliamentarians, local authorities, charities and lawyers.

Ministerial Assurances

Stephen Kingdom, for the DfE, re-stated the Minister in charge, Edward Timpson’s assurances that no rights would be taken away from parents or children and that there was definitely scope in the draft bill for a tightening up of the language to  make that clear. He said they were working with the Department of Health on structures for redress if a stated provision is not made by a health organisation.

On timescales, he said they would be shorter than they are at present and the requirement for mediation would not extend the timescales for appeal. As mentioned on this website last week, Mr Kingdom confirmed that Speech and Language would stay under the remit of education and said that an ECHP must be as clear and specified as statements “should be”.

The Good, Bad & Ugly

Gulshanah Choudhuri

Gulshanah Choudhuri of SEN Barristers, called her presentation “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and addressed some of the legal concerns over the bill’s wording, in particular that there is no duty on health to come up with the provisions in the proposed Education, Health and Care plan, beyond a stated commitment in the new NHS Mandate for ‘joint commissioning’. She called on the government to make sure that children who may not have an educational need but do have a significant disability and so will need health and care provision are included in the final bill.

Gulshanah also called for the new SEN Code of Practice that must accompany the bill to undergo parliamentary scrutiny because it is the bible that parents, SENCos, lawyers and Local Authorities use and as such it is vital that it is closely inspected to ensure that it is the best it can be. Make it updateable by all means, but first of all, it has to be right.

Co-production a “no-brainer”

I spoke on behalf of Family Voice Surrey as co-producers of the conference and this, in itself shows how far we have come in changing the relationship from being on opposite sides to having our opinions given equal weight. If this government is to be lauded for just one thing it is that parents have been put at the heart of the reform and mandated to be closely involved with any decision-making processes that will, of course, affect our children. Even though my boys are now 15 and 13, with an EHCP going up to 25, we’ll be in the system for at least another ten years.

Family Voice Surrey is still a relatively new parent carer forum. We had our launch about this time last year it’s been quite a challenging year so far because we had to plunge straight into the pathfinder workstreams as parent representatives.

Fighting to get the right support can be lonely and isolating and frustrating, especially when it seems that the services you need are not available or you’re told your child doesn’t qualify for them or that you’ve have to fight for the educational help they need every single step of the way.  Expensive legal battles for assistance have become far too common and unacceptably adversarial. We all have many horror stories and they are still being created as this culture change has most definitely not yet filtered through to the coalface of SEN departments up and down the country.

Changing all this is what the reforms are supposed to be about. As parent representatives, we’re not there to window dress. After a tentative beginning on all sides, we’ve worked together for the best part of a year, and our views are listened to. I think that co-production has largely so far been a positive experience. It has most certainly given us a voice as parents and, I think, Surrey has seen the benefits of having the first-hand perspective of SEN services that we bring – even though our views are not perhaps always comfortable to hear.

It’s a no-brainier when you look at it. How do you know if you’re delivering the right support and services if you don’t speak to the people using them and their families?

The Minister, Mr Timpson certainly seems to be listening to those concerns that have been voiced and I hope that the bill’s wording is tightened up as soon as possible. Good intentions and assurances are fine, but I think everyone would feel much better if it was down in black and white in the Bill itself.

Reform – expensive but worth it

As for the trials themselves- they are only just beginning. Some families have been recruited, but this is an ongoing process.  Key workers- the person who is to guide a family through the whole process- are still being found and trained. The trials will need to be monitored and evaluated and, at the moment while there is nothing in law, a child who qualifies for an EHCP will still also need a statement as their statutory protection.

There is still much work to be done, and as the trials have been extended until September 2014, more money will need to be found to support this. There’s no doubt it’s going to be hugely expensive by the time the new system is finally in place, but if there’s something worth doing, it’s this.

In the same way that it is right to support children from difficult backgrounds so that they do not perpetuate the expectation of a life on benefits, it is right to support children with special needs and disabilities because many, though obviously not all, will have a much better chance of becoming a contributing member of society with the right assistance when it counts – in their school years and early adulthood.

This is the way to cut welfare – over a generation of helping our adults of tomorrow reach their potential, have a positive outlook and believe that they can achieve their dreams, wherever they lie. It is the responsibility of today’s adults – all of us – to help make that happen.

SEN Minister offers assurances to parents over Bill wording

 

I’m sharing this information received from the Council for Disabled Children which I hope you’ll find interesting.

********

Edward Timpson, the Minister responsible for SEN and Disability within the Department for Education, recently gave evidence to the Education Select Committee on the draft provisions of the Children and Families Bill that relate to SEN and disability.

He also met CDC and others to talk about concerns and issues. As Strategic Partner for SEN and Disability to the Department for Education CDC alerted him to the fact that parents were concerned that the reforms would erode their current rights in relation to education support. As a result of this the Minister undertook to write to parents through CDC in order to address these concerns.

The CDC has now received a letter from Edward Timpson that makes explicit the Government’s commitment to ensuring that protections parents have in the current system will be carried forward into the new system.

You can read the letter at this link

http://www.councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk

Speech Therapy to stay within educational provision – so said the man from the DfE

One question on many lips in the reform to the special educational needs system is, with the inclusion of health in an EHCP, where will speech and language provision end up?

As it stands at the moment, the Health part of an EHCP is not going to come attached to a statutory duty to provide and so if it ends up in the health part of a plan and isn’t delivered, how will you appeal?

However, my friend and SEN barrister, Gulshanah Choudhuri, this week attended the Education Law Association’s specialist SEN group meeting and asked this very question of Phil Snell, policy advisor for the DfE. Mr Snell was giving a presentation addressed to the members of ELA, followed by a question and answer session.

Gulshanah Choudhuri

Gulshanah Choudhuri

Gulshanah asked about her own daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, and whether her speech therapy would go under the new health provision or remain under education. Mr Snell, in front of an audience of around fifty lawyers besides Gulshanah, assured her it would remain under education.

The pathfinders have now been extended until September 2014 – the same month it’s planned to introduce the changes after the bill gets Royal Assent at Easter 2014. This has raised concerns that the legislation will be introduced before the trials on the reforms are complete.

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) is calling for the bill’s introduction to be delayed, so that the pilots have more time to test the reforms. The charity is particularly concerned about how the new system will fully involve health professionals.

Quoted in Children and Young People Now, Jo Campion, deputy director of policy and campaigns at NDCS, said: “We have been looking closely at the pilots and speaking to families with deaf children. The evidence we are getting back is that professionals in health are not getting involved.

“Some parents are telling us that at the joint plan meetings health professionals are simply not showing up. If these reforms are supposed to be radical then the legislation will need to be strengthened to place a legal duty on health agencies to get involved. Currently that is not there.”

NDCS is also worried that local cuts to education provision will mean less services and staff are available to support children with SEN as the reforms progress.

Mr Campion said: “The cuts are affecting professionals who are working with families in the pilot areas who are under threat of losing their jobs. How will the government be able to test these reforms if there’s no-one left to work with families?”

Contact a Family’s head of policy Una Summerson agreed that the government should take time to consider the evidence from the pilot areas before introducing changes to the law.

“This is an enormous change to the system that needs to be tested properly so we are pleased about the extension,” she said. “But we are concerned that the legislation will be introduced early next year before the government has been able to collect the evidence.”

There are also fears that children with speech and language difficulties could miss out on specialist support under the new system.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) warned that the majority of children with speech, language and communication needs do not currently have a statement of SEN, and therefore may not be eligible for new single education, health and care plans.

But Christine Lenehan, director at the Council for Disabled Children, said the government is right to extend the pilot scheme due to the complexity of the reforms – despite other concerns about the changes.

“It is encouraging to see the government taking the pathfinder work seriously and giving them additional time to test out what works best in these complex areas,” she said.

Mr Timpson meanwhile said, “We want the best for children and young people who have special educational needs or who are disabled,” he said. “Our reforms will help children get support swiftly, make progress in school and then go on to live independently later in life.”

Source for the second half of this article is Children & Young People Now

Charlotte’s amazing brain – a heartfelt story about childhood stroke

I happened upon a new blog via Twitter the other day, which told a powerful and emotional story about a young girl who suffered childhood stroke, was close to death, but with the help of a devoted mother and family and a dedicated medical team has pulled through.

Charlotte Neve was just seven when disaster struck. Her mother, Leila, has had to face the ultimate horror for any parent and even now, Charlotte has a significant brain injury as a result of her stroke that they are facing with the same determination as they did in their early, dark days when even survival wasn’t assured.

I found Leila’s blog within days of publishing a post about The Brain Injury Hub and contacted her to pass on the resource. Leila, in turn, has written about Charlotte’s fight for life for Special Needs Jungle as a way of highlighting childhood stroke and the devastation it leaves.

*****

Leila

Leila

For the last 12 years, I have had two beautiful, intelligent, high achieving, happy, healthy daughters. I’m a single Mum and the 3 of us are very close and have possibly the girliest household in the world.

However, on Friday 13th April this year, our world came crashing down around us as I woke up to my youngest daughter, Charlotte (7) breathing very oddly. At first it sounded like snoring but then I realised she was missing a few breaths each time. I tried to roll her over off her back thinking this would help and realised instantly that something was badly wrong. She was cold, floppy and unresponsive. Every parent’s worse nightmare!

(more…)

Keep Us Close – Scope’s campaign for better local disability services

The charity, Scope, which works to help children and families affected by disabilities, is currently campaigning for improvements to the Children and Families bill, which if you re a regular reader, is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. Scope Scope’s new campaign called Keep Us Close, is pushing for better provision of local services for disabled children.

If you’re interested in this subject, MumsNet have a Q&A session with the new Minister responsible for SEN reform, Edward Timpson on Tuesday so head over there to pose your question after you’ve read about Scope’s Keep Us Close campaign in this article by campaigns officer, Tom Eldon, written exclusively for Special Needs Jungle.

***

 

Until recently, when I started working for Scope, I had very little understanding of the challenges that families with a disabled child face here in the UK. I’d just spent a year and a half working with an association of parents with disabled children in Mongolia, whose situation was almost unbelievably dire – surely things must be better here.

And to be fair, things are a lot better overall. But what I’ve found out in the past few weeks through national research and speaking to parents and support groups has both shocked me, and motivated me to get involved in fundamentally changing the system for the better.

If you’re reading this blog it’s likely you’ll already know what I’m about to say – that trying to get appropriate support and care for a child with special needs often stresses a family to breaking point. From the initial stage of getting an accurate diagnosis of one’s child’s impairments, through navigating the process that’s needed to get  a statement of special needs (often required to get access to a suitable educational environment), to finding a school that meets their requirements, everyone I’ve been speaking to has been critical of the status quo. And often, even when these hurdles have been overcome, there are many more that remain; most families don’t live close to facilities and services that meet their needs, be it education, respite care, healthcare or even play groups and opportunities for children to socialise.

One mother I spoke to found local support to be so inadequate that she and another parent abandoned the state altogether and started up their own support service to provide advice and activities. Their charity has grown, and they now support the families of nearly 2,000 children, with some of them travelling as far as 50 miles to access their playgroups and meetings – but despite this clear demand they still struggle to raise funds. And these aren’t isolated incidents – time and again I hear the same story of stress and anxiety, of complicated processes and services that fail to meet families’ needs.

A recent Scope survey found that 6 out of 10 families with a disabled child aren’t able to access the services they need in their local area; only 1 in 10 told us that the process of getting local services was simple. Survey respondents’ children travelled an average of 4,300 miles to access services each year – that’s roughly the same as driving from Land’s End to John O’Groats. 7 times. It’s robbing families of their quality time, putting strain on relationships, and often adding a huge financial burden. Families are at breaking point, and the system needs a radical change on a structural level.

So how are we trying to help change all of this?

At the moment the Children and Families Bill is lumbering through pre-legislative scrutiny (as excellently documented here on Special Needs Jungle), providing an opportunity for us to reform a system that’s clearly failing huge numbers of people across the country. Scope have been campaigning for the inclusion of a ‘Provide Local Principle’ clause in the bill, which would:

  • Ensure services in a local area are inclusive and accessible;
  • Put a duty on local agencies to introduce new inclusive and accessible services if they don’t exist in a local area.

This would mean that parents’ views, and their families’ needs,would become integral to the planning and delivery of local services, making councils work together in a joined-up way. Having this clause in the bill would guarantee, in law, that councils have to provide the services family need closer to home.

The campaign, Keep Us Close, has been really successful to date, with over 17,000 campaign postcards and emails taken at the time of writing. But we still need to push the issue harder – many of the responses we get from MPs are broadly positive but lack any real commitment to change things for the better.

If you have a minute to spare, please take our online campaign action and let your MP know that this issue is important to you – that the opportunity for reform that the Children and Families Bill provides mustn’t be squandered. There are hundreds of thousands of families across Britain who deserve better.

Right now we have a critical opportunity to feed into the content of the bill and improve the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of families across the country. We expect the bill to come into Parliament in the New Year, so please, let your MP know that you care about disabled children and their families.

Thank you.

Can you help with Pathological Demand Avoidance Research?

I was checking the most frequently used search terms that brought people to my site the other day and one of the top ones was “Pathological Demand Avoidance”
I ran an article a while ago by Deborah Rourke about PDA and it still continues to be very well visited, so I know that this is an important issue for many parents who are seeking information about the condition, which is very under-recognised.
I would now like to introduce you to a mum who would like your help as she researched Pathological Demand Avoidance for her dissertation. Hannah Reynolds has a very personal reason for choosing the subject.
** Please see update at bottom**
***

Hannah Reynolds

Hi, my name is Hannah Reynolds and I am stuying for a MSc in Forensic Psychology at the University of Portsmouth. I am also mum to two daughters, one of whom I suspect may have Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome. I’m fascinated by this condition and, particularly, why some children with PDA behave very differently depending on the environment they are in – between home and school, for example (like my daughter!).

For my dissertation, I will be conducting research into this particular feature of PDA  and am currently looking for people who would like to participate in my study once it is up and running (next year).
So, if your child – with OR without an official PDA diagnosis – shows this difference in behaviour between environments, please send an email to hannah.reynolds@myport.ac.uk and I will add you to a database of participants.
I want to make this as informative a piece of research as possible so please, if this description fits you (or anyone else you know), get in touch!
Many thanks
Hannah 🙂
** Update from Hannah January 2012***
It has been necessary for me to tweak my project proposal (this is common in the early planning stages) and, though I will still be researching PDA, I will be conducting a more in-depth, qualitative study into parents’ and teachers’ experiences of a child with this syndrome. In a couple of months, I will post an update on this website (thank you very much, Tania!) to advertise for participants so please check back for this.
I am very grateful to those parents who have already emailed me and I would like to hold on to all details for any future research I might carry out in this field. Please let me know if you would like your name removed. To any parents who would like to be considered for further research on PDA, please email me – hannah.reynolds@myport.ac.uk – and I will add your name to my database.
Many thanks for your time and don’t forget to keep checking for updates!

Common sense prevails with more time to test the SEN reform proposals

Minister, Edward Timpson at the Select Committee today

Education Minister, Edward Timpson, has, it seems, listened to the concerns that so many, including Special Needs Jungle, have voiced – that the pace of SEN reform is too fast and more time needs to be given to learn from the pathfinder trials. At the Education SEN select committee on Tuesday, he announced the extension of the Pathfinders for a further 18 months to run through to September 2014. This is six months after the the bill was originally slated to pass into law and I, for one, welcome it. He did, initially, say he still wanted the bill to be passed by the original date, however.

The Minister said, “The overwhelming view is that we are moving in the right direction, but we want to get this right and if that means listening for a little longer, then I am prepared to do that.

In response to concerns from some that the new bill will remove rights that are already existing, Mr Timpson offered assurances that families’ current protections under the existing statementing system are intended to be carried through to the new system. This includes the right to request an assessment, which will also include parents, GPs and Health Visitors. Earlier, parent representatives at the meeting had highlighted the issue that the wording in the current bill did not make it clear that local authorities still had a duty to respond to a request for an assessment within a specified time period. Mr Timpson did not give a clear answer about imposing statutory time scales to ensure that local authorities could not drag out an assessment.

Mr Timpson said, “In no way shape or form is there an intention to water down the protections that parents currently have and if that requires some nuances to the drafting in the clauses that are currently before the committee, then I’m happy to go back and have a closer look at.”

Mr Timpson was at pains to point out that the purpose of the reforms was not to save money  – in fact, he said, spending on SEN had increased from £2.7 billions  in 2004/5 to £5.7 billions in 2012/11

The Minister also said that the Department for Education is working closely with the Department of Health to ensure health play a greater part in a new SEN and disability system. This was in response to concerns that in the draft bill at the moment, only local authorities have a duty to provide the therapies and support specified in a plan.

Regarding the health issue, Sharon Smith of Hampshire Parent Voice, part of the SE7 pathfinder, illustrated it using personal concerns relating to a duty on health to provide the specified therapy and care. She cited her daughter, who has Down’s Syndrome, needing speech and language therapy and if this came under health provision and wasn’t forthcoming, there would be no way to appeal or ask for a judicial review.

Mr Timpson said they will be looking at the NHS mandate and at redress in the NHS constitution, as well as ways to forge links between Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Health and Wellbeing Boards.

Extension of pathfinders

Mr Timpson explained his decision to extend the pathfinders from March next year to September 2014 saying that in some areas of the trials there was already a grounding of good evidence (not quite sure which ones he means) but in other areas they still need more evidence- for example personal budgets- for the right regulations and a new Code of Practice to be formulated. By Next March, the bill still would not be on the statue books and so they would use that gap to learn from the pathfinders.

When pressed on the question of when the legislation would be introduced if the pathfinders were going to continue until September 2014, the Minister said, “I want to make sure we get legislation right. If that means a short delay in introduction of bill, so be it. But it is the parliamentary authorities who have the final say in what legislation is going to be introduced, when.

Which is very handy, it seems to me.

Mediation

When challenged about the proposal for mediation to be compulsory, the Minister said that there would be no in-built delay as a consequence of there being mediation, in that the two month period in which an appeal can be triggered would not be affected, as they anticipate mediation to take place within the first month. His answer to the question of capacity of mediation services was somewhat confusing, however. It also seems to imply that parents can still appeal in the same two month window as they can now with no delay. This needs further clarification.

Transitioning to the new system & legal status

The parent and service user panel

Questions were raised about how to transition from the current system to the new one for those children who already had statements. Mr Timpson said he wanted to avoid ‘blind panic’ and so the transition needed to be systematically and carefully introduced. He wanted to assure parents that the current elements of their child’s statement would continue in an EHCP with the same legal standing and EHCPs would have the same legal status as statements.  All current rights that parents have, he said, would be protected through the legislation.

Addressing worries that there is only a legal duty for the education part of an EHCP to be delivered, the Minister said that joint commissioning would give a duty to health and social care to cooperate and work with education and parents. I’m not sure I’m convinced about this, myself, and I’m sure many of my colleagues in the pathfinders will feel the same way.

For a transition from a statement to an EHCP, he said there would be obvious points – for example at an annual review or post 16 instead of moving to an LDA they would transition to an EHCP, but Mr Timpson said it was something they would need to think very carefully about. He didn’t think there is a single cut off for all children, but they would use the pathfinders to provide evidence on the best way forward.

With the all-encompassing approach of an EHCP, questions have been raised about what happens if a young person is out of education but still requires input from health and/or social care and Mr Timpson appeared to  indicate that local authorities would have a duty (a legal duty??) to try to get these young people back into education. He acknowledged there were difficulties when a young person was in higher education as they had their own structures but did believe that it was important to bring apprenticeships under the auspices of an EHCP.

Additionally, if a young person takes a year out at, for example 18, they will have a right to ‘reactivate’ an EHCP if they come back into education and if it if decided they no longer meet criteria, they will have the right, themselves, to register an appeal.

There has been talk of redefining Special Educational Needs but the Minister said the current definition was the one that was intended to be carried through, but as it was something they wanted to get right, they would continue to carefully consider the issue.

Terminology in the draft bill has been called into question and Mr Timpson said that the term ‘set out’ was intended to be the same as the existing ‘specify’ and it was not a  way of trying to realign what may or may not be available. Which does beg the question, if that’s what is meant, maybe they should have avoided controversy and said that to start off with.

Code of Practice

With the reforms comes a need for a new SEN Code of Practice and many believe that this should undergo the scrutiny of parliament. Mr Timpson said that he believed a new CoP should be a ‘living organic document’ that is concise and can be updated in a more natural way than going to parliament every time a change needs to be made. However, although he seemed on the one hand to be saying there would not be a consultation, he then said that there would be close involvement from parent-carer forums and a need to make sure they play a part. He did say that he was still listening to views that there should be a different route.

A new Code of Practice, Mr Timpson said, would be a document that parents can easily access and that would be clear what their rights are and what the process is for their child’s journey. It would include information about the EHCP, Local Offer and Personal Budgets but he didn’t want it to be labyrinthine. It must be effective, he said and that was why the pathfinders were important in informing that.

Local Offer

The Minister said that regarding the Local Offer, it was not their intention that it would be a duty for the local authority to provide the content of their local offer. However, he then said a key area that it should address is that on the face of the local offer should be information on how a young person could seek redress if they don’t receive the services laid out in it. I must admit I’m a bit confused here.

In the previous committee hearing, the experts present said they believed that there should be a national framework of minimum standards for a Local Offer. In response, the minister said that what was clear is that they want a Local Offer to genuinely reflect what parents and young people want that is local to them with strong local accountability. He said that there would be, in the new CoP, key areas the Local Offer should cover but he didn’t want to be prescriptive.

He implied that it would be up to parents to confront a local authority if what was available to them was not of the same standard as that in another authority.

In my opinion, the average parent of a special needs child doesn’t have the time or energy to go about researching what is available in other LAs and start demanding it from their own. This is why a national minimum standard is a good idea, Mr T. You cannot expect parents to police the Local Authority and its Local Offer – it isn’t reasonable or fair.

The Minister said a national framework was not currently the intention, but they would give it more consideration and I hope that they do for the very reason I have just given.

Congrats to the parents from Hampshire and the young people who made such good points clearly and concisely in their part of the proceedings. I agreed with the points they made completely and they did a really good job!

You can view the live video feed from the Select Committee on the Parliament UK website.