And now, among all the bad news, here is something pretty darn fabulous.
We are thrilled to announce that Special Needs Jungle has been chosen as the Your UK Parliament Awards "Volunteer of the Year 2020"!
This award recognises the work of people who have volunteered their time to help others get involved with democracy and the UK Parliament. It is such an honour to have won and to have the work that the SNJ volunteers, and especially Tania, recognised in such a prestigious way.
Now we can retire, happy...
As I'm sure you all know, SNJ is run entirely by volunteers and it is thanks to every single one of them that we are able to keep you up to date with everything that is happening in the world of special educational needs, disability, health and social care.
Obviously, with the Coronavirus pandemic in the last few weeks, our work at SNJ has become even more vital, with the closure of schools and the ensuing confusion over what is available for families with children who have additional needs.
Thank you to our volunteers - this is your award too!
In light of this, I wanted to use the announcement of this award to say an enormous thank you to everyone who helps us keep Special Needs Jungle running at the cracking pace it has to, in order to keep on top of everything that is going on. We understand that everyone is worried what the pandemic means for our loved ones and we will continue to do everything that we can to get information out to you at the earliest opportunity.
I also wanted to highlight the dedication that Tania has shown, and continues to show all the families in our community, despite her own health challenges and family to look after, to make sure that you all have the information you need. She and I have had very little sleep in the last few days trying to get posts out, but she's always on top of it no matter how she feels the next morning. I'm sure you'll join me in letting her know how much we all appreciate her.
We are only a few of the thousands of amazing people out there who volunteer to help others though. It seems rather fitting to sit here, amid the chaos of the last few weeks, taking the time to celebrate everything people are doing to dedicate their time, expertise and support to help those in their community. Volunteering is the backbone of the SEND world.
A community of support
Having a child with additional needs in your family thrusts you into an enormous community, more often by circumstance rather than by choice. It is almost impossible to exist in it without - even inadvertently- helping out other people you come in contact with. It can be something as simple as a smile of understanding in a waiting room, sharing some tips that were passed onto you by another parent, or signposting someone to the help they need.
It is how Special Needs Jungle was first created after all; the simple desire that Tania had to help other families who were going through the same statementing process she had just experienced. And here we are 12 years later, 12 years wiser and now a vast community of parents, carers, young people, education practitioners, health practitioners, academics, civil servants, lawyers and social care practitioners, all with a common goal. It's quite staggering what can develop from a small act of kindness.
I don't think it's unreasonable to say that SNJ has had a large part to play in the greater awareness people have gained about the SEND reforms, and the crisis in SEND in England. During and since the reforms, we spent hours on the phone to journalists in the national, local and educational press, explaining the reforms, to help them understand what was going on and have the knowledge to write about it. As well as our website, our substantial social media presence pumps out SEND-related news every day, keeping people informed.
This greater knowledge has enabled parents to start their own groups, largely on Facebook, to discuss issues, compare notes, offer support to each other and to come together to campaign. All this led SNJ to be instrumental in bringing the SEND National Crisis and SEND Action groups together with SNJ, to create SEND Community Alliance, a parent-led campaign group. Please join as affiliated members!
A new normal for everyone
As the world is coming to terms with their "new normal", I know a lot of SEND families who actually feel that the government's measures to make people self-isolate aren't that different from the life that they are already living. Parents with children who can't go to school are already home educators. Parents who are used to living under the threat that every infection might bring, continue to protect their loved ones. Families who can't just pop to the shops or go and see friends are experts in living in isolation.
I hope that this new way of living will open up this isolated world to others. I hope it'll bring more understanding and a more flexible approach to how we can reach out to, and include, those for whom this is their normal. Maybe it is time for our community of volunteers to show the nation just how capable we are in a crisis and to use everything our wonderful children have taught us to help those who are struggling?
However you are going to be spending the next few weeks do stay safe, keep communicating and keep looking after each other.
Some name checks
Tania Tirraoro, Renata Blower, Angela Kelly, Marguerite Haye, Matt Keer, Hayley Mason, Catriona Moore, Siena Castellon, Stephen Broach, Lisa Thomas, Zoe Thompson, Philip Milburn, Hannah Moloney, Hayley Newman, Malcolm Reeve, Jo Grace, Ambitious About Autism Youth Patrons, Nancy Gedge, Bren Prendergast, Barbara Follows, MrBoosMum, all our Patron donators and everyone else who has written an article or helped us out over the years!
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