Worried about the child and family bill 2013? Well, if your child has SEN or a disability then you should be!
This is a post I’ve needed to write since I first read the published Children and Families Bill 2013 but ended up having so many questions flying around in my own head that I couldn’t find a way to relax enough to put them in to words (well, words that made sense anyway).
I have now been given the opportunity to head up to Westminster on Monday, to meet with the Minster Ed Timpson where I will be able to put those questions and opinions forward! So…I thought it would be a good idea to share them here with you guys first and also see if you had any opinions to add.
If you remember the post I wrote last year relating to the Green Paper you will know that back then I had already developed grave concerns relating to the proposed reforms relating the that of Special educational Needs (SEN). Now reading the Children and Families Bill it is only fair to say that those initial concerns have now been greatly heightened and with good cause too.
1: One of my major concerns surrounded that of the removal of school action/action plus. The green paper offered little indication on what was therefore being implemented to make things easier for those children without Statements/Education Health Care Plans [EHCP] to obtain appropriate support and services. Looking at the bill it seems that as I feared, “Nothing” is actually being put in place that will truly benefit the child who doesn’t fit the criteria for SEN. The Department Of Education (DFE) has stated that these children will have some degree of support through that of the “Local Offer” Though it should be noted that the bill as written states that the Local Authority (LA) are required to make information available relating to the education, health and social care services it “expects” to be available within its local area! This seems to hold no legal duty and therefore leaves these children in a somewhat similar situation than the one they are already in.
2: The Bill states that it has expanded the list of schools parents can request as a preference when naming the school in their child’s EHCP. This maybe so, but the fact the LA can still claim that for the child to attend the parents preferred school would be an inefficient use of resources, therefore meaning they wont name that school, actually means parents are in no way a better position than the one they are currently facing now! Well, I fail to see the difference.
3: At the start of the process the green paper promised a much quicker assessment process, with timescales being greatly reduced and parents not having to battle their way through the SEN System. However, the Bill fails to reflect this and actually fails to make known any sort of timescales for assessments, reassessments or appeals whatsoever.
4: The suggested requirement for parents to meet with LA officials before an application is made to tribunal is just pointless. It was first suggested that Mediation would become compulsory, meaning parents needed to take this route before applications for appeals to the tribunal were omitted. However, it was later agreed that this type of requirement was somewhat unfair, one making little if no sense! But then the the bill has stated the possibility of a meeting to discuss possible mediation etc is to be held before submitting an appeal to the tribunal! Come on… This will again make an already long process longer. If parents thought they could just pop down the LA and sort the whole mess out over a cuppa then don’t you think they would? No mother likes to endure the whole stressful notion of having to battle the LA at the tribunal, don’t you think we’d avoid it if we could. Again the whole lacking of timescales contributes here greatly. Why shouldn’t appeals be submitted at the first instance of it being denied. Its already known that it is only then that most LAs will actually start putting things into action and communicating with parents.
5: Another huge concern for me is the lack of information given on how the integration of the new EHCP will affect those children who currently have statements of SEN? Given a great deal of the law and SEN code will need to be rewritten to fit in with the new sen reforms how is this going to work with the statement! After all, if statements are going to be replaced this cant possibly be done by the time the new laws come into practice! With many of the laws that relate to those statements being written off, where is the legal protection to ensure the provision is still provided to the child who obtains that statements? Will statements be gradually phased out, scrapped and reproduced as EHCP as a result of annual reviews? What about those who have had annual reviews shortly before the legislation is made official? Will they hold a statement that offers no protection for a year? What happens when they are older will they receive the same protection if they remain in education? How will these new changes incorporate the social care side of things? Will those who have SALT on part 3 of their statement find that it then becomes a requirement of the health care system, no longer the duty of the LA to provide? A health care system that has no legal duty to provide it?
Which brings me to my next concern…
6: The lack of duty with the health sector. As it stands most of the areas which the LEA consider to be non educational are tossed over to part 5 of a child’s statement! I don’t think anybody from the health sector currently ever sees that part of little man’s statement or that of any other childs! Why? because they have no duty to provide any advised provisions, thats why! So, I guess I should be excited about the LAs joint commissioning with the health sector. Sadly I’ve already lost faith in this proposal.
The fact is that the LA have a duty to provide educational provision and regardless of joint commissioning it will stay that way! So, them “non” educational support needs will fall in the hands of the health sector right? With the guys at the LA actively communicating with those in the health sector things will now be hunky dory, right? Don’t be fooled! Their will be no legal requirements made of the health sector so basically… Nothing’s changed! Its just like having the non educational aspects of a statement tossed in part 5. The only difference is the health sector will know they are there, but in no way does this mean they will have to provide such services! What with waiting lists for a basic blood test on the rise and government funding cuts that have already had detrimental impacts on the NHS and related services, it looks like even more children will be left without the support they need to succeed. Yes, they made it sound so promising when talking about it all in the green paper, but in reality, it isn’t really that pretty no matter how much you dress it up!
As mentioned Little man receives SALT and OT which the LA tried its best to toss into part 5 of his statement. It took two independent assessments and reports, a pending tribunal case (that luckily didn’t make it to the hearing) for the LEA to throw the towel in. Which brings me to the issue of legal aid, if this ends up restricted then I guess children all over England and Wales are gonna be in huge trouble.
7: My next point to make is that of the funding issue. Again the bill has been very careful not to give many clues on the budgeting side of things. Delegations of school’s budgets for those children just outside the SEN scoop have not been discussed, and very little information on the individual funding of a child’s EHCP has been offered. Ok, so we know about the idea of personal budgets, yet the finer details are still up in the air. However, at this early stage my concerns currently surround the area of passing money to families and letting them go about it themselves. Ok, this way we know what our children are getting and we can hopefully obtain the services needed to cater for our child’s needs, but isn’t this just another way of removing the responsibility and the workload from the LA. I want to know how they are going to monitor the situation to ensure that the provision on the EHCP is being implemented? Will the parents be required to document spending of the budget having to knock up an annual spending report for the LAs records? I don’t know about you guys but I’m to busy being a mother and an advocate for all that!
8: Is this just another way to lower spends? Honestly this is a serious question, one that deeply worries me! How can we as a country struggling against a Recession with cuts already hitting children’s services the hardest, have faith that our children’s needs will be met this way. The bill is missing huge chunks of legalities that although haven’t been great have all the same protected us somewhat, giving us a case to fright for our children. With the bill being very unclear when it comes to appeals, timescales and a duty to provide services who can blame me for thinking that this isn’t a way to slowly help refill the governments penny jar. After all legal expenses are just that expensive so by removing many of the legal rights associated with the statement, less appeals can be lodged and the expenses decrease… Sad but logical!
9: Has anyone else noticed that the idea of a key worker, a single person to point us parents in the right direction, has suddenly been dropped from the bill. I’ve read many of the governments responses to the concerns raised, though I failed to uncover concerns relating to a family key worker! I therefore wonder why it suddenly disappeared without trace, especially considering it was one specific aspect of the green paper most of us parents applauded? Too expensive an idea maybe?
10: The EHCP is for those with SEN between the ages of 0-25 years. However, what most people fail to realise is that this is not exactly true! Its pretty clear from reading the bill that once your child/young person leaves education then the plan will crease. This actually makes sense, after all the only aspect anyone really plans to fulfil is those provisions given in the EHCP is that of the educational part of the plan. As mentioned the area of health and social care will have no legalities attached meaning it won’t be worth the paper its written on. It will be this part that your child will probably need most when leaving education, yet it seems that more assessments from social services to obtain the help needed to help young people with the transition into adult life may well require that of you having to fight for it… Again!
Thanks for reading my thoughts and opinions on the Bill. I actually have some strong views on the sections covering adoption and children in care and have decided to express them in a separate post which I’ll try and publish sometime over the next couple of days.
Now I would love to pick my readers brains a little and ask… “What would be the most important aspects of the bill you would want to raise with the Minster?” Please it would be great to hear your thoughts.
To access the Children and Families Bill and associated documents, click HERE