No cash for key workers in the SEN reforms? There is now.

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. fixing the sen system

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."

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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. CDC-Logo

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!

Edward Timpson giving evidence
Edward Timpson, MP, Education Minister

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.

The CDC has published a question and answer paper with further details.

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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...)

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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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18 Comments

  1. Jane Mc

    Tania as always a clear and “spot on” comment on what is happening out there! Bravo SEN Jungle. These supporters need not only to be given initial training but to be given the on-going back-up to be able to advise parent and young people comprehensively and accurately. Bad advice can turn an already difficult situation into a life altering disaster.

    1. Tania Tirraoro

      Yes, Jane, quite right. They will have to be chosen very carefully and £30 million may cover initial provision but it will need to be ongoing, as you say. And thanks for the compliment – especially coming from someone I admire so much!

  2. I am pleased that the Government is taking seriously the impact on families of managing support for children with SEN and have backed this up with cold, hard, cash. As you say I am doubtful that 12 people on average per local authority will cover need, especially for those families who do not qualify for the new EHC Plans, who may need extra support from Health and or Social Care. The Q and A session has more input from the CDC regarding the role of Independent Supporters and how they are different to the current Parent Partnership services.

  3. The purple one

    Potentially good news. Couple of concerns. Don’t a lot of charities receive their funding from local authorities? If th at is the case, would question how independent are they in the sort of advice they are giving to parents & young people. Also, how will this be sustained? And as Jane Mc points out, they would need to very well trained. A lot is at stake here.

  4. Phin Silberrad

    I don’t understand why a new role of IS has been created. From what I’ve read, the role of an IS will be to advise on how to navigate the new assessment “process” – why is this necessary when the aim of the new EHC is to make it easier for parents to navigate the system?

    The DfE also 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”.

    This is something Parent Partnership Services already have as part of their mandate. So why hasn’t the £30 million hasn’t been used to “beef up” existing Parent Partnership Services? Is this confirmation that PPS are not “independent” after all?

    Why create a new role where access to an IS is selective, rather than expand PPS which are universally available to families who have children with SEN?

    1. Tania Tirraoro

      all good questions and I do not personally have the answers apart from Parent Partnership has a broad role of advising about all education issues that parents have and so are greatly needed. Your point about beefing up their service is a good one so that they can be the managers of the IS role. Our local PPS do stress their independence, although having email addresses that reflect this would help.

  5. Phin Silberrad

    Thank you.

    Ok, it’s becoming clearer (I think!)

    PPS = broader role advising about all education issues, universal service

    IS = only advises on EHC process, families are selected by LAs/PPS for time-limited

    Both challenge council decision-making

    Both are independent

    Have I got it right?

    1. Tania Tirraoro

      As the EHCP is for health and social care too, an IS/ key worker would represent the parent across all services, not just education, which is the PPS remit. As to challenging decisions, their role is really to guide the parent through the process, making sure they have the documents they need and understand their options, as well as help them find the appropriate services from the local offer which can be accessed by children both with and without an EHCP but with SEN.
      If the parent is then not happy, they can guide them through the appeal process. What is not at all clear is whether they would see the parent through any Tribunal or mediation. Where, after all, can a person with all these skills be found? It is a job with huge responsibility and need for a lot of knowledge of services, facilities, how systems work and legal knowledge. It therefore requires a special type of person who also has compassion. And how many cases could they manage at once? Who will manage them?
      I shall seek answers to these questions!

  6. Watching this with interest too (and still feeling guilty about lack of Pathfinder post…) – from what I understood, parents were going to be allowed a Key Worker or Facilitator of their own choosing who would sit in on meetings, reviews etc with them and help find any information they needed. I’m not entirely clear on whether this IS is the same role, and how parents would then get to choose….

      1. Tania Tirraoro

        I think the problem is in part that it means so etching different in each LA. In ours it started off as a Key worker, then it became a Plan Coordinator and now this Independent Supporter. But there has never been any decision on where this person would come from or who would manage them.
        I had the idea that they could be a separate entity so that training and management could be standardised, otherwise how do you keep track of them and who is doing a good job in relation to others? But this raises money issues as to future sustainability in the same way as all the options?

    1. Tania Tirraoro

      Yes, Steph this is the same role, and it makes it clear that this supporter/ facilitator will be independent and now paid by the local authority. This is the biggest criticism aimed at Parent Partnership Services because of the fears that they might be unduly influenced by their LA paymasters.
      If independent, this would not happen but will will have to wait and see because as usual, the devil is in the detail!

  7. Phin Silberrad

    “I think the problem is in part that it means so etching different in each LA. In ours it started off as a Key worker, then it became a Plan Coordinator and now this Independent Supporter. But there has never been any decision on where this person would come from or who would manage them.”

    It was the same in my LA, which is also part of the SE7.

    There is much confusion amongst families, and it seems within some pathfinder LAs about what the role is. It is vital that the DfE and involved charities clearly set out what it is, and soon.

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