The next government must act to flatten the support ’cliff edge’ as young people with SEND become adults

with Katie Ghose, CEO of Kids

Transitions signify change - and it’s one the whole country will experience if the polls are right in less than a month’s time. But for young people with disabilities approaching adulthood, the word “transition” means something quite different and to them, just as momentous.

The “Transition to Adulthood” means moving from child to adult services, from school to further education, or if possible, to a fulfilling role in training or employment. This momentous change can feel just as precarious as it must do being a Tory politician right now—especially if the transition isn’t well-managed.

Katie Ghosh, CEO of the charity Kids has written for us about their new report “On the Cliff Edge” about the experiences of young people with SEND as they grow up. The report recommends improvements that the next government need to take seriously to help “flatten” the edge.

Flattening the cliff-edge for young people with SEND and their journey to adulthood by Katie Ghosh, CEO Kids

The imminent General Election sees 130 of our 650 MPs voluntarily begin a transition from elected politician to an alternative career, and they’ll likely be joined by many more after polling day. Just two weeks before Rishi Sunak triggered the vote, our Kids charity was in Parliament to launch a new report into a different kind of transition. On the Cliff Edge describes the obstacle course faced by young people with SEND and their families as they make the transition into adulthood. It sets out robust recommendations to transform the situation by the end of the next Parliament.

Experts by experience searching for a way forward  

The report documents the experiences of a diverse group of young people with SEND in England and their families. The current system makes it very difficult to find information about options for the future. It leaves young people with SEND waiting without the vital support they need, too often failing to include them in society meaningfully. In short, the transition support system is entirely broken. 

Expertise in what works is plentiful and especially powerful when it comes from young people and families who have somehow found their way through. Combined with the experiences of young people and families right now – as On the Cliff Edge seeks to capture – it is the only sustainable basis for change.  

26-year-old Jimmy Langton, a champion for Kids and our youth voice work, is an inspiring young man who communicates via eye-gaze technology. He shared his views at the launch event, and it’s clear his ideas are key to transforming the system: 

“It makes me sad when I think about some of the things that have slowed my progress, that have let me down, but my mum has really supported my voice and encouraged me to say what I want, and we have actually had some very positive experiences along the way - where I have been listened to, given choice, and been part of decisions that ultimately affect my here and now and my future.” 

Despite his positive experiences, Jimmy is clear that more needs to be done:

“…having someone at the top, co-ordinating, holding themselves to account and ensuring others are doing their part and working together. This is why we need a Minister for SEND, we need a plan that brings departments together, a plan that has the principles of good transitions weaved throughout and most importantly has children and young people with SEND and our families at its heart.”  

Ramandeep Kaur, mother of 16-year-old Harry and a trustee, parent governor and researcher, then spoke of their current transition journey. She and Harry are on a quest to find a college where his talents for dance and the creative arts can flourish. Ramandeep questions why disabled young people have to ‘transition’ at all. Why can’t they just become adults like everyone else?  

 
“I am kept awake at night, worrying about his future. Nobody has contacted me yet, to discuss the move to adult services, be that in social care, health care, or education. 
“My son is unlikely to work due to his learning disabilities, but he does want to go into performing arts – he has quite the talent for dancing, Bollywood being his favourite – but so often, the focus of transition pathways, offer little opportunities for young people to explore the things they really enjoy.” 

Ramandeep Kaur, parent carer

‘Something better must be possible’ 

In compiling the report, we heard from young people abandoned without any support for two years before they could access adults’ services. We heard of young people being evicted unlawfully, or being dismissed from their job without being offered adequate support. And we heard of young people, especially those with the most complex needs, being left out altogether. Yet participants quickly moved to thinking creatively – like us, believing that change can happen. As one parent said: “Something better must be possible”.   

Together, they generated five guiding principles for good transition support. They must be:

  1. Personalised,
  2. Relationship-based,
  3. Timely,
  4. Explorative and collaborative, and,
  5. Clear and honest.

In a process involving around 60 people, over three months, participants used these principles to create tangible ideas for doing transitions differently. These include a “transition mentor” to provide targeted support for young people, maintaining contact and continuity to support a young person with SEND to ‘navigate the world’, and a ‘transition house’ service, to provide a local space where young people come to learn real-life skills and prepare for their next steps.  Imagine what could be achieved if everyone with a stake in the transitions support system came together and made a cast-iron commitment to create a smooth path into adult life.  

Preparing children and young people with SEND for adulthood is an area frequently identified for improvement in local area SEND inspections conducted by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, but more information is required for changes to be well-targeted. In the coming months, Together Trust and National Star, two charities that support young people with disabilities, will be releasing an important contribution to the data on what happens to young people with SEND after education, following their survey exploring how these young people feel about leaving school or college. It finds that half of young people leaving education feel worried, and one in three young people feel lonely, yet having a clear transition plan and being listened to are significant mitigating factors.

Fresh thinking and urgent action needed  

The report calls for the support system for transitions into adulthood to be transformed once and for all.  

  • First, the Government must step up and demonstrate action on a national level to fix the disjointed transitions support system by appointing a dedicated minister for special educational needs and disabilities. The role would take responsibility for fixing the disjointed transition support system and closing the support gaps within one term of office 
  • Second, a national cross-departmental plan must be backed up by local action. Local authority commissioners must comply with the law and catalyse access to timely, quality transition support.
  • Third, a new national cross-sector alliance should convene and collaborate to achieve transformational change, rooted in young people’s and families’ expertise.    
Text: Personalised:
Tailored support to the needs of the specific young person, recognising each young person will have different aspirations, abilities and needs.
Relationship-based:
Ongoing support provided by a trusted adult that knows the young person with SEND, in order to provide continuity and a familiar face throughout their journey into adulthood.
Timely:
Early planning to provide sufficient space and time for young people with SEND and their families to prepare for adulthood without feeling rushed.
Explorative and collaborative:
Exploring real and meaningful options and choices with the young people with SEND and their families, wherever possible, based on needs, aspirations and what is available locally.
Clear and honest:
Clearly communicate what young people with SEND and their families can expect, when, and from whom.

Underpinning every action to transform transitions, we must recognise that a good adult life will look different for every individual. At Kids we believe that every young person is brilliantly unique and that a good adult life can take many different shapes Paid work is possible for some, not right for all. It is a path some will take, not a measure of a person’s success.  

As Ramandeep says

“Adulthood should not be something to be feared but should be seen as a time in the lives of our young people, for them to achieve their dreams and aspirations, whatever they may be. For my son, its simply to dance. So, let’s help Harry dance.” 

Fresh thinking and urgent action are needed to flatten the cliff edge. We will work with anyone and everyone to create positive pathways into adulthood and a support system that works for all. To find out more, download the report or register your interest in exploring an alliance to catalyse change, please visit our website and read the report.

‘On the Cliff Edge’ report was authored by Will Bibby and Laurie Blair of Anthill Collective. 

About Katie Ghose

Katie is in her 40s and has a short grey pixie cut and brown skin. She is smiling.

As Chief Executive of Kids since 2019, Katie Ghose is a strong advocate for the rights and needs of children and young people with SEND from birth through to 25, and their family members.

Katie brings experiences from Kids’ diverse range of frontline SEND community provision which includes specialist early years services through to support with the transition from childhood to adulthood, as well as mediation and information and advice services. Katie can speak about what works on the front line and bring practical insight to the fore. Policy, advocacy and campaigning have been central to Katie’s three previous positions as CEO - at Women’s Aid, the Electoral Reform Society and the British Institute of Human Rights. Follow Katie Ghose on X at @katieghose or connect on LinkedIn (23)

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