Biggest changes to special needs services in 30 years
PUBLISHED: 13:00 20 July 2015 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 July 2015
Families caring for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) now have more choice in the services and support they can access. The Children and Family Act 2014, which came into force in September, led to the most significant changes to SEND services in the past 30 years.
The new system has been designed to give people more information and advice on what they are entitled to and what services are available.
It has also led to more flexibility in the services families access so they can be tailored to a child’s specific needs and lifestyle.
To find out more about the changes and the support available for parents, I met with Mike Newman, who is leading the team responsible for implementing the new system.
Mike, the strategic development team leader in North Somerset Council’s people and communities department, said: “It does feel like a sensible change. “This is the most significant shift towards people having a say about what they get and how they get it.
“It is now a more integrated service so people don’t have to repeat themselves and have 10 different assessments to get the basic support their child needs.
“It is more personalised. Currently we provide a lot of services for one size fits all because there is not a lot of money, but we need to find new ways of giving people more choice and personalising the services.
“It is also more transparent.”
SEN statements vs the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP)
Instead of special educational needs (SEN) statements for children under 16 and learning difficulty assessments for 16-25 year olds, the documents will now be replaced by the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) which will cover children from 0-25.
Children newly diagnosed will go on the EHCP system straight away, while those with SEN statements will be gradually switched over during the usual SEN reviews and officers have until 2019 to ensure everyone is in the EHCP system.
Mike said: “We used to have SEN assessments for what school the child went to and what support they needed, separate health assessments and also care assessments. These were all dealt with by different departments. “
“The EHCP tries to combine that into one process which parents and children and all professionals and schools contribute to and produces one plan at the end of it.
“It makes the system more integrated and it makes a lot of sense.
”It also covers people from 0-25. We used to find that when children reached 18 it was almost like they fell of a cliff.
“A lot of things changed and the services never joined up very well so it’s always been a big issue.
“The new plan provides more continuity and additional key support when they are approaching independence which is really important.
“We were finding people turning up to adult services and parents often couldn’t imagine how children could ever have independence because they didn’t know what services were out there.
“We recognise not every child is going to live on their own or in a home in their community, but we want children to get to their optimum level of independence and have the most fulfilling life possible.”
Another change which has been brought in is how direct payments are used.
Families who are given funding to take respite days can now choose how they spend their money rather than being told what services to access.
Mike said: “The new direct payments enable people to purchase services which are best for them.
“It’s a lot more flexible. It can be used for a family holiday with respite services included, or you can pay for someone to come into your home to look after your child when you are out, rather than using a residential home which some children don’t like.
“We can adapt things that work for you.
“We couldn’t design the perfect system which would work for every family and child, we’d only ever be able to work the best fit.
“They can go away and do what’s best for them. It’s incredibly positive.”
The Local Offer
To ensure families have all the information they need and they are getting what they are entitled to, every council must now produce a local offer.
Mike said: “A local offer is a directory of services, but it also includes advice about what you are entitled to and how to get it.
“We have a special website and it’s about community-generated content rather than us dictating what’s there.
“If a club you use isn’t on there, tell them to register on it.
“SEND families rely a lot on word of mouth and are very supportive of each other.
“We want to use that local offer website to offer that support so people can add information to it, support each other and recommend different services.
“The website can also show people what’s out there so they can find what’s the most suitable for them to send their direct payments on.
“As part of this, every school has had to detail what their approach to additional learning needs is and their plan to support individual students.”
How the new changes are being met
Mike said: “The guidance for the new changes arrived in July 2014 ready to be rolled out in September.
“We had no change for 30 years and then just two to three months notice.
“It’s been really challenging for everyone, but staff have been working exceptionally hard to get to grips with the new system.
“The Government hasn’t given us any more money to provide new services or new support, but we did get an SEN capacity grant which was designed to give people time to work on doing the changes right.
“We also knew we had to work with parents because people are so anxious about changes to services they rely on.
“These families are on a knife-edge anyway with the pressures they face so we’ve been working with a group of parents for a year-and-a-half and they’ve been brilliant.
“They’ve totally shaped the service. It’s been invaluable to hear what services worked for them and what didn’t and what would make things better.
“I think we’ll look back and see that by involving parents and learning from their experiences we’ll end up with a system that’s more understandable.
“A lot of people we see don’t want special services, they just want to go to the park with their friends or join a football club.
“People are not asking for the earth or to do things differently, they are just asking to do what people generally do.
“If we can support them with that then we’re onto a winner.”
To find find out more about the new changes and the support available in North Somerst visit http://www.n-somerset.gov.uk/localoffer