Contact A Family extends free benefits helpline service

CaF logoThe brilliant charity, Contact a Family, is from today offering an extended helpline service.

Contact a Family has long been a source of information about the benefits system for parents of disabled children, however now – thanks to three years of funding – they will be able to offer more personalised advice for parents living in England.

From today (June 3), if you get in contact with CaF, they will be able to offer you an appointment with their welfare experts to discuss your situation. They will then be able to take you through the latest relevant benefits advice and run through any other financial help you may be entitled to maximise your income.

Senior Parent Adviser and welfare rights expert, Derek Sinclair said:

“At a time of huge change to the benefit system, this will provide a badly needed source of  free, confidential, high quality and up to date advice for parents. Our advisers will make sure that parents have the right information to make informed choices about issues.”

These include:

  • moving into work
  • benefit options when a child reaches 16
  • or how to use self-directed support to take greater control over how services are provided to their disabled child.

Contact a Family will also be offering a series of workshops across England  to raise awareness of the new benefits system. Get in contact with your nearest office  to find out more.

You can also access their quarterly welfare update in their What’s new e-bulletin and a range of resources to help parents make sense of the benefits maze. Sign up to receive your free copy.

Contact the CaF team of experts on freephone helpline number 0808 808 3555, email them on helpline@cafamily.org.uk or post a question on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/contactafamily

You can also:

  • Watch our video – meet the parent advisers and find out how they can help

Parent Carer Forums

Debs writes….

Tania and I are both co-chairs of Parent Carer Forums and we do mention them quite a lot.

Tania Co-Chairs Family Voice Surrey with the lovely Angela.  Angela shared her experience of meeting Mr T with us on Valentine’s Day.

I KentPEPsLogo92dpiRGB_web2Co-Chair Kent PEPs with the fab Sarah, who knows when to reign me in and also is one of the most organised people I know.  Sarah will be the person who has printed everything off before our meeting and the one who replies to emails quickly.

What is a Parent Carer Forum?

A parent carer forum is a group made up of parents and carers of disabled children who work with local authorities, education, health services and other providers to make sure the services they plan and deliver really meet the needs of disabled children and families.

The forum represents the views of parents in the local area but does not advocate for individual families. There is usually a steering group of parents who lead this and listen to the views of other parents in the local area to make sure they know what is important to them. Forums are keen to make contact with as many parent carers as possible.

In England there are now forums in almost all local areas.

Who can join a parent carer forum?

Forums are ‘pan disability’ which means that parents or carers of a child with any type of additional need or disability are welcome to join – as they are likely to need to access services and support. Joining your forum does not mean you have to commit lots of time. In most forums you can join and receive information, and you then decide if you want to get more involved at your own pace.

Taken from Contact a Family website 

We are all part of a National Network of Parent Carer Forums (NNPCF) which is  a network of parent carer forums  across England. It too has a steering group made up of parent carer representatives from across England.  NNPCF make sure that parent carer forums are aware of what is happening nationally, and that the voice of parent carers is fed from local parent carer forums into national developments, working with the Department for Education, the Department of Health, and other partners.

Contact a Family support the work of the National Network of Parent Carer forums and offer us relevant training and a variety of conferences and regional meetings.

If you would like to find out if you have a local Parent Carer Forum, then we have added a page to our site with their details for you.

If you are a member of a Parent Carer Forum steering group, we also have a group on Facebook which you are welcome to join.

Gcontactetting involved with your local Parent Carer Forum is such a great way to have a say and really help to influence decisions made about services in your area.  Most of the forums are always looking for new members to participate so get in touch.

Special Needs Jungle meet SEN Minister, Edward Timpson

So the big day arrived and of course, it was raining. Tania and I headed into London, to the Department for Education, to meet the Education Minister in charge of the SEN reforms, Ed Timpson.

Unfortunately, there was ‘the wrong kind of ice’ on the conductor rail and  so I sat at Waterloo for half an hour while Tania updated, “At Wimbledon and moving”, “Now at Clapham”, all the time watching the clock.

Eventually we arrived, and the lovely Jon arrived to escort us up to Mr T’s office.  While we waited for the Minister to finish another meeting, Jon introduced us to some mums who blog about their own special needs children and who’d come along via Tots100 – one all the way from South Wales and another from up in Manchester. Hats off to them for making the effort!

We received a very warm welcome from Mr T, who didn’t look at all daunted by the prospect of meeting several passionate SEN mums.  Then again, perhaps he missed his vocation in life and an Oscar could have been his for the taking if he had chosen a different career route.

snj-ET

Debs (left), Mr Timpson, Tania

The mums gathered had children with varying difficulties and were at different stages of the process of trying to secure support, but the main thrust was of the outrage and distress parents felt when they were forced to fight for what their disabled children needed.

The Minster asked us to share with him one thing we would change or we considered an issue.

The one thing that was very noticeable was the amount of nodding heads from all of us as each person relayed their concerns or suggestions – it was very clear that as parents, we all know our children and we’ve all had similar experiences and issues.  The solutions we suggested were all similar too.

I felt a genuine sadness that the bad bits – the bits  you think only happen to you or in your area – were  happening to many others across the whole of the country

Parents often feel they are not an integral part of any decisions made about their child – often they are talked at, rather than talked to.  The whole process can become, and often is,  adversarial, with parents feeling that it is often just a case of the LA showing us who is in charge.  As parents we want to engage and play a role in our child’s life but legislation alone won’t make this happen.

Aside from Tania & myself who, as you know, are involved in our own areas developing plans for SEN reform as part of the pathfinder, one mum was taking part with her family in the trials themselves (and we’re looking forward to hearing more about it from her soon) while others were less knowledgeable about the stage the reforms are at. I suspect that may soon change!

It was telling that most had felt a lack of support and signposting but there were several mums who could point to excellent help they had had and we think this could be developed into “Beacons of Good Practice” that the government could highlight as examples to other areas who may not be doing so well. What a great incentive, to have your service win such an accolade!

Tania & I raised our concerns about the massive task of culture change needed to drive forward the Children and Families Bill and to ensure it meets the outcomes it was initially designed to produce, but more positively, we also tried to offer some solutions to that and will be sharing our ideas and contacts.

Key working (and a named key worker) were the one thing we all agreed with.  Parents want to have the confidence that practitioners within different agencies (and sometimes practitioners within the same team) will actually speak to each other. As that doesn’t happen at present and there are not clear signs that it will be happening anytime in the near future, there was also the recognition that parents need someone who is just there to help them (independent advocates), someone who knows the system and the resources available, someone who can be your guide through the local offer.

charlie

Charlie Mead

Another point your intrepid SNJ advocates raised was the huge potential for “nurture groups” to create a backbone of support for vulnerable and troubled children within schools.  Children sometimes present with what appears to be an SEN, but this can be exacerbated by unmet emotional or social needs.

When given the right support through this type of group, can then integrate back into universal services.  Tania talked about the great work that child psychologist, Charlie Mead, has done with the use of nurture groups in a previous post – Special Needs Jungle in the Telegraph – what I really think and we hope that Charlie will be able to share his experience with Mr Timpson, who was extremely interested in the concept. If commitment and funding for nurture groups can be mandated or at least added to the Code of Practice, this could be a real way to help families and children succeed.

Generally, the meeting was very positive.  Mr T did appear to listen to what we were saying and he was very keen to stress that the Code of Practice was an “indicative” draft, which will be informed by the findings from the pathfinders and SEND pathfinder partners.

desperatedanHowever, as parents who don’t often get to bend the ear of “The Man That Can”, this was our chance to indicate to Mr T and his trusty team that the indicative draft is at present rougher than Desperate Dan’s chin.

We will be working with other parents and practitioners to try to influence plugging the gaps and, in fact, Tania is attending a Code of Practice workshop next week.

We were given the contact details for the Minister’s team and asked to let him know of anything that was working well and were all told to “keep blogging”.

We can promise him, and everyone else, that we most certainly will.

SEN Reforms – The Minister visits

Last Friday a groups of parents from parent-carer forums around the country came together at the Department for Education to talk about how parental involvement in the pathfinder reforms had influenced the process, what was working and what wasn’t.

The parents included myself, Debs (who you will recall runs Kent’s forum) and Angela Kelly, my Surrey Family Voice co-chair.

We talked a lot about the value of what is being called the “co-production” of parents’ voices being valued and listened to and how it must continue after the reforms are put into practice, and preferably, mandated in the Children & Families Bill, or new Code of Practice/regulations.

On hand were DfE officials involved in the bill’s progression and yesterday, Edward Timpson, the minister in charge himself travelled to Disability Challengers in Farnham to meet parents and pathfinder families.

Although, very flatteringly, I had been invited to meet him because of Special Needs Jungle, I was already booked to deliver a half-day social media workshop for a room full of noisy and energetic Stella & Dot independent stylists. It was lots of fun, but I was rather hoarse and brain-dead at the end.

Despite sadly missing my chance to speak to the minister, I knew he was in very good hands with Angela being there, along with other parents.

And Ang, being the good egg she is, has written about the visit here. She did say the Minister had a tear in his eye at missing me too, but I think she was smirking when she said it.

Over to Ang…

The SE7 pathfinder team had an important visit on 14th February. SE7 is a collective group of seven south-east local authorities, parent-carer forums and Voluntary and Community sector organisations, who have come together to trial the reforms proposed in the Children & Families Bill.

On a mild Thursday morning, a collective group of professionals, made up of local authority, voluntary and community sector and parents came together at Disability Challengers in Farnham, Surrey to meet with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Edward Timpson. (And yes, I have included Parents in the professional capacity because 1, we are professionals where our children are concerned and 2, we are professional in our capacity as co-producers under the new approach to the SEN reform)

Upon my rather unceremonious and flustered arrival, I was greeted by a room full of familiar and  friendly faces. Co-chairs of West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent parent-carer forums had arrived in a much more timely manner than myself, thank goodness and represented parent participation in a very professional manner.

But most importantly there were young people present and a family who are currently at the Statutory Assessment phase under the current SEN system.  Having young people and families involved in such a key meeting is such a step forward and gives a them a voice, it also enables the people who need to understand this message the opportunity to hear how real people are affected by the current system and what needs to change.

The Minister joined everyone in a circular group and was told about the progress being made so far by all trial areas, while Surrey’s pathfinder manager, Susie Campbell followed with Surrey’s progress regarding the single plan. She explained how Surrey had devised their single plan, focused and the child and their family, and how families and young people had been instrumental in this process. Our draft has gone back and forth until a plan was agreed suitable for testing.

I was then asked what my thoughts were on the single plan and I rather gushingly spilled out how I thought co-production was the only way forward and that by children and families having a voice and being at the heart of the process this would create a culture shift and build relationships with parents/carers and all the authorities.

Mr Timpson spoke with a family about their experience of the current system and the openness of the discussion demonstrated that they were being heard and that a change in the way mainstream schools approach SEN and disability was urgently needed.

There was a very limited discussion about Key Working which, while this was due to time, is something that I feel will have to be further addressed  and  when further trials have been carried out this will be  key area (pardon the pun) to ensure the success of the new approach.

Personal budgets and the Local Offer were next and Co chair of West Sussex spoke of their experiences with personal budgets and how this had enhanced their child’s access to services he actually needed rather than accessing services that were available.

Click to see the Tweet Vine Movie of the card

Click to see the Tweet Vine Movie of the card

I think more time needed to have been spent discussing the Local Offer, as there huge concerns over how this will work and how it will  replace the categories of School Action and School Action Plus and inform parents of services that will be able in cross-boundary areas in a clear transparent timely and effective way

Time seemed to be the main constraint with the meeting as there was a lot to present in such a small amount of time, however that Mr Timpson visited to see what is happening in the trials from the mouths of those involved  demonstrates a willingness to listen learn and understand what is happening with the trials and, if I hadn’t mentioned it before, the importance of co-production!

At the end of the session Mr Timpson was  presented with messages from each SE7 parent-carer forum to the Minister. This was innovatively delivered in a hand made Valentines card.

This was well received and Mr Timpson remarked that it was the most creative lobbying he had ever seen, I therefore feel that because of this, the impact of the messages will resonate for longer and have a greater prospect of successfully informing the change to the SEN and disability reform.

Here’s Family Voice Surrey’s message to the Minister:

Message from Family Voice Surrey- Thank you for listening to and including parents/carers views in the publication of the draft legislation.

Our thoughts are that the new bill needs more clarity. This view is shared by ALL parent carers on our steering group. Statutory protection is necessary for those children and young people who have disabilities that may fall outside of the SEN bracket, these children and young people may have very complex health needs but if they have no special/additional educational requirement then currently they will not be eligible for statutory protection under the single plan.

Family Voice Surrey request that you include:

  • Statutory rights for those aged 0- 5 with an EHCP, ensuring swift and timely access to treatment/equipment to aid the delivery of early intervention
  • A mandatory requirement for children with SEN and Disabilities to receive a level of support from their LA that meet the requirements of their EHCP
  • Minimum national standards for the Local Offer – a specified minimum level of provision that Local Authorities will have a duty to provide to children with education, health and/or social care needs who are not eligible for an EHCP

Pathfinder has shaped co-production and parents and carers are working alongside professionals, practitioners and providers in an unprecedented way and it is working.  Policy and local delivery is being shaped in a pioneering way.   This must continue!

Mandatory requirements for co-production are a central part of the EHCP process, together with the delivery of the Local Offer at a strategic level across all services.

Parent/carer forums have a vital role ensuring that parents receive sufficient support and training to undertake co-production effectively. Recognition is needed for the unique role that parent/carer forums will have in this delivery , with adequate resources provided for this work.

Message from Kent PEPs (Kent parent carer forum)

As a forum we were please to see some of the feedback received from parents/carers has influenced some changes in the draft Children & Families bill, and thank you for listening to our views.

We welcome the changes regarding mediation and the fact it will not become compulsory. We are pleased to see the inclusion of Towards Adulthood as a requirement of the Local Offer and an emphasis on strengthening the participation of young peoples.

However there are still some areas where we have concerns:

  • We are concerned about the lack of inclusion for children & young people who have a disability but not SEN and hope your decision to exclude them will be looked at again, in particular to provide statutory protections for Disabled children & young people who have a specific health/social care need but not severe SEN.
  • There is no indication of a duty to respond to a parents request for assessment within a time limit; will this become clearer when the regulations are published?
  • We would appreciate more detail of the single assessment process, Including how the integrated assessment will work in practice; will this become clearer when the regulations are published?
  • With regards to the Local Offer we urge you to support a standard approach for schools to determine some national minimum standards encompassing what parents/carers can expect from schools, clearly laid out so parents can see how these standards work in practice. This should of course include academies & free schools.
  • We support the call for a national literacy and dyslexia strategy, which includes dyslexia trained teacher in every school, which would support the need to ensure early identification (Dyslexia Action’s Dyslexia Still Matters report).

The pathfinder has certainly increased parent participation and closer working relationships between parents/carers and professionals and we would appreciate support for the vital role parent/carer forums have in ensuring effective co-production continues.

Politics and personalities in the SEN jungle

Like me, my co-contributor, Debs Aspland, grew up in the call-a-spade-a-spade, working class, north-west of England.  Also like me, she has far too much to do trying to juggle work and care for her special needs children to have any time for the politics and game-playing that has so often, in the past, made lives difficult for parents trying to cut their way through the special needs jungle.

In this post, our Debs who, you will remember, is Director of Kent’s parent-carer forum, Kent PEPS, explores the different personalities we meet as parents and individuals in our daily lives and how thinking about this – and your own approach – can help you navigate the system to get the best help for your child.

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Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.

Arnold Bennett

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by politics and personalities.

Debs Aspland

True co-production with parents is a goal that came out of Aiming High.  The Department for Education allocate a small grant each year to a Parent-Carer Forum within each local authority, with the remit that they work with health, education, social care and other providers to ensure that the services they provide are the services that families want and need.  Fantastic, what a great way forward!

However, the DfE forgot to tell the health, education, social care and other providers that they had to work with the Parent-Carer Forums.

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