ESDEG organised a focus group in the second week of November 2022 at the Viking Community Centre, Northolt where mothers gathered to share their experiences in accessing services, obtaining diagnosis and understanding the referral process to Carmelita House in Ealing where NHS, social services and LA’s SEND team are based.
During the discussion, the mothers shared their frustration over the lack of knowledge about the SEND system and how that is hindering the process of seeking the best possible help for their children. Ms. Warda Mohamed, ESDEG’s Family Support Worker, SEND Project talked about the gaps in the system and how children sometimes slip through them unless a parent is careful. In this she echoes an article published in The Guardian in October 2018 which states “…many of the most vulnerable children in society end up without the support to which they are entitled, and are out of school for months – even years – as parents battle to secure the right provision to meet their child’s needs.’
Councils periodically organise free workshops and focus groups for parents in their local areas to understand how the SEND system works. Apart from these, there are several paid workshops available online as well. But what do those parents who do not have access to these workshops do?
Local Offer (LO): Parents should try to find out the Local Offer (LO) of their council. Under the Children and Families Act 2014 it is a statutory duty of each local authority to design and publish a LO for their area. The LO is a virtual information hub designed for children and young people aged between 0- 25 years with SEND needs and their families by the Local Authorities. LO provides information about support services and provisions available to the families in their local areas, the eligibility criteria and how to access those services. Ealing Council’s LO can be found here.
Finding the LO is just the tip of the iceberg and still means hours of research trying to piece together information. According to Ofsted Report SEND: old issues, new issues, next steps published in 2021 “there is not enough clarity about which authority is held accountable for services and provision in the local area and an uncoordinated response between health, education and social care was at the core of most problems that appeared to exist.” This fractured approach results in confusing both the service providers and parents seeking help and results in further delays.
During the ESDEG focus group the mothers had lots of questions about the process and what the dos and the don’ts are while navigating the system. The confusion was apparent as they tried to figure out what the law entitles them to. Most of them had not heard of the Children and Families Act 2014 which is the law about children and young people in England with special educational needs or disabilities.
In order to make it easy for parents, we are listing out four common SEND misconceptions that the parents have about the system and what the Children and Families Act 2014 actually states in each case.
Misconception I: Many parents assume that the Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) Request has to be done by the school.
The Law: Under Section 36 (1) of the Children and Families Act 2014 any parent, young person or school can request an EHC Needs Assessment. If a parent feels that her child is not keeping up with their cohort group or in need of some extra support she should not wait for the school to make the assessment request, rather apply herself.
Misconception II: The EHC Needs Assessment is a complicated process and needs lots of documentation.
The Law: Section 36 of the Children and Families Act 2014 does not require any particular application form(s). A one page application is valid and would be considered. In fact Ms. Warda stipulates that submitting every document related to a child’s needs may not always help the case. Parents are urged to submit only those documents which strengthen the case.
Misconception III: Many parents assume that the EHC Needs Assessment is an expensive process.
The Law: Needs Assessment is a free service and open to all children whose parents/carers, school or health service feel that they need the extra help. “If we can afford it” clause is not mentioned anywhere in the Code of Practice, Legislation or Case Law.
Misconception IV: If the Local Authority refuses an EHCP application for a child, parents assume that they can do nothing about it.
The Law: Parents can go to the SEND Tribunal and appeal against the council’s decision.
95% decisions are in favour of parents in Tribunals.
Some of the figures quoted in a report published by the Department of Education in 2022 titled ‘Special educational needs and disability: an analysis and summary of data sources’ are –of the 8,579 registered SEND appeals in 2020/21 (academic year), 27% were against ‘refusal to secure an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment’ or ‘refusal to re-assess’.
The cost incurred by parents can sometimes run in thousands of pounds and this often puts parents in debts. In order to avoid this, parents have three options open to them – they could represent themselves before the tribunal (this helps in cutting out the legal fees), they could apply for legal aid and the last one is to approach a charity who specialises in SEND Tribunals and provides free service.
We are listing below some of the useful websites that parents can check out for information on SEND
Ealing Local Offer – https://bit.ly/3Xfmvmp
Ealing Local Offer Leaflet – https://bit.ly/3GrBEuZ
Special Needs Jungle – https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/
IPSEA – https://www.ipsea.org.uk/
ESDEG is here to help:-
If you are a mother of a child with SEND needs and live in Northolt you could always drop-in at ESDEG’s coffee morning at the Viking Community Centre. Ms. Warda Mohamed, ESDEG’s Family Support Worker, SEND Project is present at these events and ready to help you with advice. So are other mothers who are going through similar experiences and can chat with you.
Have you checked out our previous post where we talked about the challenges faced by ethnic minority parents in assessing the SEND system? You are welcome to share your experience with us regarding the roadblocks.