Families of children with special educational needs are facing a “disproportionate burden” to ensure they get the support they need. This is the main headline from a recent report issued by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman has compiled this report having studied the first 100 complaints they received following the introduction of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) in 2014.
EHCP’s replaced the older Statements of Special Educations Needs (SEN) with transitional government funding in place to ensure all disabled children could access education in a more holistic way.
The Ombudsman has revealed Local Authorities are failing in many areas when preparing EHCP’s. This has included a failure to gather all the available evidence in order to make an appropriate decision, a failure to plan ahead for a child, especially when they are moving between key education stages and a general failure to involve families in the decision making process.
Perhaps most importantly, it is said that less than 60% of EHCP’s were being completed within the 20 week timescale as per Regulation 13(2) of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Regulations 2014.
Out of the complaints the Ombudsman have considered so far under this new regime, they have upheld a staggering 80%. This is well above the average for all local government and social care complaints at 53%.
Clearly there are problems in Local Authorities switching over to the new EHCP which is particularly important as all children currently under a SEN must be transferred to new plans by April 2018.
Michael King from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“When councils get things wrong it places a disproportionate burden on families already struggling with caring and support: some families have to go well beyond the call of duty to confirm the type of support their children should receive.
“We issued a report in March 2014, highlighting the shortcomings which needed to be addressed with the new EHCP system.
“Regrettably, our first 100 investigations show this has not happened.
“The system is not failing universally. But for those people who come to us, we are finding significant problems – sometimes suffering long delays in getting the right support and children ultimately failing to reach their potential.”
Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, said:
“Councils are working hard to ensure all children with SEND are getting the support that they need however, this is a new and complex system which councils and other agencies, including health partners and schools, are trying to navigate.
‘With transitional funding set to end in March 2018, there is increasing concern among councils that at a time of rising demand, they will be unable to meet the needs of children and families in their areas.
‘Councils are clear that the Government should provide additional and ongoing funding to meet this need, otherwise councils may not be able to meet their statutory duties and children with high needs or disabilities could miss out on a mainstream education.”
In order to assist Local Authorities, the report which can be found here produced Practice Guidance to help with the transition. The Ombudsman has recommended the following:
Guidance to help with the transition. The Ombudsman has recommended the following:
- Councils have a strategic plan in being able to manage existing transfers and giving priority to urgent cases;
- Give professionals clear instructions about what information is needed to complete the EHCP to avoid delay and produce quality work;
- Ensure there is a clear structure in place when delays are encountered with the NHS and CCG’s;
- Plan ahead for transfers to ensure compliance with the Regulations;
- Ensure social care needs are properly considered for each child;
- Discuss education placements and costs early with families;
- Contact education placements early as well;
- Work closely with families during the EHCP process, keeping them up to date with all developments;
- Ensure managers are properly trained on the legal aspects of EHCP’s; and
- If a complaint is made that covers both health and education, try to provide a joint response, where feasible.
Ensuring all children have access to quality education is vital for not only the child, but society as a whole. Delays and a failure to work closely with the family can cause unnecessary stress and in some cases meaning the child missing out on education provision.
The Ombudsman have highlighted how ill-prepared the councils have been with EHCP’s and it is expected there will be further complaints as we get closer to the deadline for transition.