ESDEG representing the ethnic minority voice at the SEND Summit: Policy Reform & Practice Impact 2023

Suchismita Majumdar, Research & Policy Officer, ESDEG

ESDEG’s SEND Team was invited to represent the ethnic minority community and present on the topic ‘Supporting Ethnic Minority Families Whose Children Have Special Needs’ at the 3rd annual SEND Summit which took place at London’s Cavendish Conference Centre in early July 2023.

The one-day event was targeted at professionals and practitioners working with children and young people who have special needs and disabilities (SEND). Like the tittle suggests this year the focus of the summit was to understand and analyse what the SEND and Alternate Provision (AP) reforms as recently announced by the government mean for families and those working in the sector.

In response to increasing need in the community, ESDEG’s launched its SEND Support Services project in 2022 through which we support children with special educational needs and disabilities and their parents from ethnic minority and other deprived communities from low-income households in the boroughs of West London. Our aim is to bridge the gap between families, schools and the Local Authority by working with the parents and their children to ensure that the child is receiving the right support s/he needs for developmental and educational success. Our specialised staff and trained volunteers focus on identifying the reasonable adjustments a child with SEND may need to reduce the disadvantages s/he face as well as providing extra encouragement in his/her learning and support with physical and personal care difficulties. We nurture the confidence and self-esteem of the children with whom we work.

We recognise that the wellbeing of families is crucial to a child’s development and education and that early intervention is effective in preventing long term problems, so we have adopted a whole family approach in supporting children. We run services to support the families especially the migrant mothers most of whom have minimal to nil support system in the UK on top of barriers like language, poverty and low self-esteem.

In 2022 through our SEND project ESDEG has helped more than 45 ethnic minority families from deprived backgrounds and low-income households whose children have special needs and attend school in the London borough of Ealing.

SEND Summit 2023

The SEND Summit – ESDEG’s Experience

When ESDEG got invited to talk about our SEND support work and how we are reaching the ‘hard to reach’ communities we thought it to be a great opportunity to share our experience with the professionals and practitioners working in the sector. Three people team attended the conference from ESDEG — Mr Mohamed Ahmed, Director, Ms. Nasteha Jama, SEND Advocacy Worker and Ms. Huma Syed, SEND Project Support Worker.

Mr. Mohamed Ahmed was very encouraged to have attended the conference which gave him the scope to connect with other professionals and leaders working in the field. He was of the opinion that the opening keynote address by Jane Friswell on ‘The SEND and Alternative Provision reforms: what they mean for practitioners and families’ gave a succinct overview of the proposed changes and how they might impact the children and their families. This presentation brought clarity to the government plans and what to expect. The proposed changes have created anxiety among both practitioners and families and people in the sector are divided in opinion on what the changes would entail for the children. Mohamed found it beneficial to listen to the detailed talk and felt it gave him added clarity on the issue.

Ms. Huma Syed was very excited to attend the summit both in her professional capacity as a SEND Support worker and as a mother of two children with special needs. Huma found Emma Weaver’s presentation on “Understanding and supporting children and young people with ADHD” very enlightening specially as a mum of a ten-year-old son who has been diagnosed with ASD with signs of ADHD. The other aspect of the summit that Huma found beneficial was connecting with other practitioners and parents of children with special needs. She networked and collected information from professionals working with children with Social Communication Disorder (SCD) for her daughter. Huma’s biggest take-away from the event was the amount of information that she collected on the day on various SEND issues. The SEND system is often difficult to navigate since there is not much clarity on the provisions and which statutory authority is responsible for it. For ESDEG since the launch of our SEND project in 2022 it has been a steep learning curve and events like these give us more exposure and opens up channels of information. Also it gave us a platform to share the experiences of ethnic minority communities from low income backgrounds navigating the SEND system.

Though ESDEG was happy to represent the ethnic minority voice, Mohamed is of the view that the conference was designed to focus primarily on the issues faced by the children in the mainstream community, there was hardly any mention of the specific challenges faced by the ethnic minority children within the broader themes discussed in the conference.

“While I welcome the immense effort taken by the organisers in putting together the SEND Summit, I wish it was more inclusive in its content. The SEND journey is a huge challenge for the children, their parents, as well as the professionals and practitioners working in the field. Additionally, as numerous reports and green papers have highlighted again and again children from ethnic minority backgrounds face additional layers of challenges. Our expectation from summits like these is to incorporate those extra challenges and help professionals and practitioners be more aware of and better equipped to deal with those specific challenges.”

Mr. Mohamed Ahmed

Ms. Nasteha Jama presenting at the SEND Summit 2023

To quote from an article by Marguerite Haye ‘Finding Racial Minority Voices in SEND’ “Extensive national research has found that disabled children and young people from ethnic backgrounds face stereotypes, assumptions and prejudice from wider society and communities. There is also experience of insignificant uncaring institutions, negative discriminatory racial and cultural stereotypes, due to their racial background.” These are on top of the language barriers, poverty, low self-esteem, overcrowded housing etc. ESDEG’s SEND team strongly feel that making “inclusion” a buzz word is no longer sufficient, it needs to be incorporated into practice. We need more equitable representation in forums like these. While we understand that navigating the SEND system is no picnic for children and families, we do need to acknowledge that the process is much harder for families from ethnic minority migrant communities from low-income households. The additional hurdles faced by these communities need to be analysed and solutions need to be adopted as best practices across the board to make the process accessible and fair for everyone. And this can be best done with inputs from the communities and the groups/organisations working directly with them.

The team is looking forward to attending the summit in 2024, hopefully to a better represented event, share the experience of the ethnic minority communities and hone and update our knowledge and skills on special needs issues.