I'm delighted today to introduce a guest blog post from Pat Bolton, who works with a small team of Participation Practitioners at Parents In Power, Gateshead, www.parentsinpower.btck.co.uk Pat works at the coalface of special educational needs and helps parents every day to get the support their children need.
Parents In Power is a Parent/Carer Forum. Every Authority has a parent/carer forum and to find out more information or where your own parent/carer forum is located in your area go to www.nnpcf.org.uk . We are independent and work with some of the most amazing parents of children with disabilities, their strength and fortitude is second to none, no matter what is thrown at them week after week.
I have a son who is now a young man, 19 years old with ADHD, Dyspraxia and Autistic Traits and he is the most awesome of people. His brother who is 17, puts up a lot with his brother and is one cool dude, but one thing is for sure they love each other to bits and boy do they look out for each other.
So I have walked that walk, that long and frustrating journey and I have to say, sorry folks, but it doesn’t end at 16. But I was lucky enough to get my son in an Independent Special School and paid for by the Local Authority.
Every parent/carer that I come across without a shadow of a doubt tells me they are sick of fighting for what they feel their child simply needs and is entitled to in order to lead a normal a life as possible and for their child to reach their potential in whatever that means.
Their problems are nearly always linked with their child’s school and the frustration and energy it takes in trying to get this part of their child’s life right, I mean let’s face it, what a massive part of their lives it is.
Meetings are daunting at the best of times, but when you get into school for a meeting and there is yourself and 7/10 professionals around the table it can sometimes actually be frightening. To prepare parents for such meetings I go through all the issues that need to be addressed, and the points that the parents feel they must point out. We write them down on what can sometimes be a long list, so in the meeting the parent is satisfied that they have said everything they want to. Or if it is too emotional for them, I will bring these points up for them.
I have gone into meetings where the parents have been an absolute quivering wreck, feeling sick and just wanting to go home, yet just by me saying, “I am with you, you are not alone, I am there to support you” brings out the best in the parent. They are assertive, they get their points across and work down their list of questions. I minute it all for them. When they leave the meeting, although they hardly remember a thing that has been said, they feel so empowered.
That is one of our main aims, to empower parents to be competent and confident in supporting their children. My biggest concern over the years has been to ensure that when a parent gets their child’s statement to ensure that it is quantified and qualified. So it does not say something like a ‘ systematic programme of speech therapy’. What does that mean? One hour a day, a week/month/term and by whom. If it isn’t quantified and qualified how can it be legally challenged? A school might interpret that as an hour a month, a parent might interpret that as a couple hours a month. It needs to be fully explained in the statement.
Another part of school life that has really annoyed me are exclusions and as I write this I am eagerly waiting for the release of the results of the Children’s Commissioner, Dr Maggie Atkinson’s inquiry into exclusions: http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/ This is due out 19th March 2012 and I will reading this with a fine toothcomb, hoping she has captured the inequalities of exclusions for children with Disabilities, especially those with disability related behavioural difficulties.
My son was excluded 11 times in one year, what did he learn from this? Simply that every time he wanted a couple of days off school to misbehave, it worked. No matter how hard I worked with the school and I worked a lot harder than the school did on this one, they still excluded him until the day the big permanent exclusion came. My son and I cried together all weekend. The result was an independent special school which could not cater for his academic ability.
For those just embarking on this journey I wish you luck, get as much expert support as possible you will need it. If you don’t know where to start contact your local parent/carer forum, website address above and they will advise you.