News just in from the frontline... Just as many local authorities were grappling with the thorny, if not impossible, issue of funding keyworkers to support parents through the new SEN process, the Department for Education has announced a big wedge of cash to make it happen.
The £30 million funding injection, announced today by Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson, will go towards recruiting and training more than 1,800 independent supporters or 'champions' (not to be confused with Pathfinder Champion Authorities) from this September.
The supporters will help parents to navigate the new special educational needs process as they apply for an Education, Health and Care plan for their child and the inevitable horse trading that will ensue with Personal Budgets and accessing provision from the 'Local Offer' of all relevant available services that is to be published by each local authority in England.
The DfE says the champions/supporters will come from independent voluntary, community and private organisations - something that was mooted at the beginning of the process. However, it seemed that a lack of money to fund them meant it was looking like parents would have to choose from staff already doing other jobs such as health visitors, SENCOs, social workers and so on.
This, to me, always sounded like a recipe for disaster as these people are already stretched to breaking point with the jobs they have now. How could they be expected to also carry out this extra role, including keeping their knowledge of the process and services available across education, health and social care up to date? And where would they find the time to squeeze it in? It's not that local authorities didn't know this, but they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, having to come up with the support from somewhere but with no way of funding it.
Of course drawing Keyworkers from within services would make them anything but independent, but this announcement makes it clear that the money is for a pool of workers from voluntary organisations who, presumably, will not be pressurised by their LA/NHS bosses to accept provision that is not suitable.
So this news today will be greatly welcomed by all.
Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families, said in the announcement, "I know from speaking to many parents how much they value any support in helping them access the services their children need. Independent supporters will be able to spend one-to-one time with families giving them the independent help and advice they need to progress through the new SEN assessment and education, health and care planning process. This will ensure that every child and young person with SEN can take full advantage of our reforms."
Independent Supporters welcome for all parents
As the new system aims to integrate provision from all support services entailing complex funding and cooperation as part of joint commissioning, even a savvy, confident parent will need support.
Certainly, when the time comes for my sons to be reassessed I will be looking to see if this support extends to parents already in the system, who will be facing just as big a challenge at securing or retaining provision as new parents entering the jungle. And jungle is certainly what it will be with a much deeper and wider terrain to navigate for everyone involved.
When there is disagreement over entitlement or provision, the DfE says the independent supporters will also make sure councils understand what families want, and help families to challenge decision-making, so children with SEN receive the support they really need.
Whether this means help throughout the legal process or just through mediation is not yet clear but crucial to spell out for all concerned, as it will also require a legal knowledge training programme as well. They could not, of course replace a lawyer but might save the parent money in reaching out for one so soon.
The process of organising this new supporter role falls to the Council for Disabled Children (CDC), who have agreed to ensure that a range of organisations provide this totally independent help, overseeing the recruitment and training of the independent supporters - around 12 per area - in time for the implementation of our comprehensive SEN reforms.
Hey wait a minute, did you say 12 per area? Whatever the size of local authority? Hmm, some more thinking needs to be done there, for sure!
The CDC will now trial the commissioning of this process and from this spring, will invite applications from private, voluntary and community sector organisations who believe they can offer independent supporters "from within their ranks." I suspect, however, new recruitment from outside their current staff will need to be undertaken by the winning bidders and let's hope the organisations who win the cash will be chosen on merit, not just on the cost of their offer.
For me, and many similar parents, it comes just as our children turn 16, so where provision would have previously stopped having statutory support - I just signed off Son1's Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) - it now covers them. It's supposed to be up to 25, but if my, or your, children are aiming for higher education, forget it 'cos there ain't no legal protection for you, matey!
So in these many, many cases, you can wave goodbye to any recourse to law at 18 or any independent supporter too, and just cross your fingers. You may think, well if they can get to Uni, they don't need it, but there are many young adults with Asperger's, Tourette's or mental health difficulties etc, who are capable academically of higher education. If the support available fails them, they end up dropping out - or worse - from stress, depression or another mental health crisis.
Are you listening, Mr Timpson? Look how far you've come already, don't fail at the final hurdle because you know in your heart you will regret letting down so many promising young people who might, and do, fall by the wayside during these first years of adulthood.
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So, what are your thought on the news today? Does it give you hope? Are you as gloomy as ever and if so, share your thoughts?
Did you respond to the Code of Practice consultation and what did you say? What's left to be done (I know this could be a book...)
Start the discussion here because you never know who will read it.