As the Indicative Code of Practice was published, I was in Guildford delivering Early Support's Key Working in Practice capacity building training. I was lucky to have ten amazing ladies attend, all of whom understood the benefits of key working and working in partnership and wanted to see this working in their own areas. I walked away from the training feeling really positive about what the future could look like.
After a long journey home - does the M25 ever NOT have roadworks? - I sat down and started to wade through the new draft CoP and regulations.
I was initially hooked by the line in 2.1 Introduction (A Family Centred System) "Parents know their child best" and I would like to thank Mr T for getting this line into print - it was long over due. We don't always claim to be an expert in our child's diagnosis; we merely claim to be an expert in our child.
However, as I progressed through the new documentation, I started to feel a tad unsure. It sort of feels as if "this is the goal" but there is no detail on what steps will need to be taken to reach that goal, nor does it feel as if there is any real understanding of the huge culture (and operational) changes the LA & PCT staff and families are facing.
"These services should be available to all parents of children and young people with SEN". Now, before any PPS staff reading this start shouting at their PC or phone, I happen to be a fan of Parent Partnership Services, I think they offer a great deal of support to families. However, in several areas the PPS have seen huge cuts. In Kent, we lost almost 50% of our service last year (while hearing rumours of increases in the tribunal staff - a really inspiring message for parents).
Cuts in a service offering SEN information, advice and support to parents, at a time when the new legislation is raising so many questions and concerns for families, is just nonsensical (and perhaps even disrespectful to the families who need this support). How will PPS be able to ensure their services are available to ALL parents of children and young people with SEN with a reduced workforce?
In some areas, the PPS currently offer the Disagreement Resolution Service but the new COP states clearly, with regard to this service, that local authorities "should ensure that the service is impartial and it must be independent of the LA". Not all PPS are independent, even if , in theory, they operate at arms-length. This is not a criticism of PPS, but a criticism of LA officers who just cannot understand that in order for a PPS to be truly effective and deliver the service that families need, they need to let go! However, this comes down to Politics and Personalities instead of achieving the outcomes for children, young people and their families
2.4 Parent Carer Forums:
"Local authorities and other service providers should work in partnership with parent carer forums". This is where "should" and not "must" comes in to play. The COP says effective parent participation happens when the engagement of parent-carers is valued, planned and resourced - but doesn't clarify how this should happen. It states in 2.4 that PCFs should be involved in the preparation and review of the Local Offer but in section 4. The Local Offer, there is no mention of the forums, nor are they mentioned in the regulations regarding the local offer. There is the "must involve parents, children and young people" line, but this will allow the LA to cherry-pick the parents who they know and trust not to challenge them and that won't help some families.
5.1 Improving outcomes for all
"All children and young people SHOULD have an appropriate education" not MUST have. "All education settings SHOULD have high aspirations for all children and young people" not MUST have. It would be nice to see the bar raised slightly here. However, I fear this will not be the case when you see in 5.8 Best Endeavours that educational settings must use "their best endeavours" to make the special educational provision called for".
"Using their 'best endeavours' means that within the resources available to them these bodies must do their best to meet a child or young person's SEN"
Seriously? We went from "Support and aspiration: ....... wide-ranging proposals to respond to the frustrations of children and young people, their families and the professionals who work with them" to "do their best"? Hardly aspirational when one of the main frustrations of children, young people and their families is educational settings not making the special educational provision they or their children need.
"Some children and young people identified as as having SEN may benefit from referral to special CAMHS for the assessment and treatment of their mental health problems". Now this is truly aspirational. Does the DfE know about the wait lists? Do they know how many children and young people are turned away as "not meeting the criteria" or because they are assessed as "too severe"? What about those families?
The timescales proposed (20 weeks from request of assessment to EHC Plan being provided) are better than the current 26 weeks, as is the clarity that if a particular service is assessed as being needed (eg from a statutory social care assessment), the provision should be delivered in line with the relevant statutory guidance and should not be delayed until the EHC Plan is complete.
The statement that "the assessment and planning process should be as streamlined as possible" along with "there should be a "tell us once" approach to sharing information" - if any LA can cut down on the number of times a family has to re-tell their story, that will be such a welcome change for families.
"EHC plans should be focused on outcomes (both short term and longer term aspirations)". An outcome is not the delivery of support or a service, it is what that support or service is trying to help the child or young person achieve. So your EHC plan shouldn't say that as an outcome you will receive Speech and Language Therapy, it should specify what that Speech and Language Therapy should help your child to achieve.
Speech and Language Therapy should be recorded as educational provision unless there are exceptional reasons for not doing so.
There was one thing that stood out for me, as a Lead Trainer for Early Support and that is the omission of the key worker role within the CoP. Key working is mentioned but only four times and each of those is a reference to something LAs may want to consider. Having been involved so closely with the Key Working training, it feels very disheartening. The whole ethos of key working and working in partnership is the very thing that LAs, PCTs and parents need to be using as we move forward. Having everyone concerned aware of what it means and more importantly, what is looks like in practice is essential to the success of the Children and Families Bill.
Legislation on policies and procedures is about the delivery of the Bill, not an outcome of what the Bill is hoping to achieve. Let's hope the final COP is more outcome-focussed.
As this article is published, Tania & I will be travelling up to meet Mr T. If anyone thinks that is a daunting thought, then let me also share that I am waving K off on his first ever school trip away just before I head for the train and that is a much more daunting proposition - as any mum will tell you.
So, if you're on the train to Waterloo from Kent on Monday morning, I will be the woman desperately trying to disguise my red-rimmed eyes, probably muttering "he'll be fine, he'll have fun" under my breath.