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Written by Katie Ghose, Kids CEO.
The Government’s SEND review, published last week, promises the ‘right support in the right place at the right time’ for children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities and their families. We share this vision, and agree with the pledge to end the postcode lottery. We welcome the Government’s recognition that the current system doesn’t work and ‘too often leaves parents facing difficulties and delays accessing the right support for their child’.
Kids is a charity that provides services directly to families and we see the devastating impact on a parent or carer who is struggling to find help, or is kept waiting for years, knowing that their child’s needs are not being met. We also know the difference to a child’s life when support is timely, their individual rights are recognised, and everyone works together to support the whole family and wider community.
Given Kids’ 50-year track record of providing disabled children, young people and their families with practical and emotional support, three areas are of particular interest.
First, wrap around support at home and in the community is essential in enabling disabled children and young people to access and stay in education and families to stay together. A litmus test will be the extent to which reforms recognise and resource these services, from early help at home for babies with specific needs and their parents, to after school clubs for disabled young people where they can have fun, make friends and learn new skills. Will the local inclusion plans include voluntary and community organisations alongside statutory partners to reflect the importance of community services to support every learner’s development?
Second, the strong influence of the early years on the rest of life is undisputed. For babies and children under 5 who are disabled or have additional needs (whether or these are identified or diagnosed), there are specific issues which require urgent attention. These include, shockingly, a much lower take up rate of free childcare hours than for non-disabled children. This means disabled children are not getting equal chances to play and learn alongside their peers. How will the SEND review link with other government initiatives, including the Early Years Healthy Development Review to drive a relentless focus on provision for the under 5s and their families?
Third, we welcome the Government’s proposal for ‘a single national SEND and alternative provision system that sets clear standards for the provision that children and young people should expect to receive, and the processes that should be in place to access it, no matter what their need or where they live’. The widely varying availability of and approach to specific services, from mediation to short breaks is evident, including when parents and carers move home and experience completely different provision. The situation is getting worse as charities like Kids often cannot afford to run services on the contract price offered by local authorities and do not re-tender as a result. ‘Deserts’ appear where is minimal or no provision at all, piling pressure on GPs or other professionals who families turn to for help. The question is what the stronger accountabilities and investment promised in the paper mean in practice. How will the standards be interpreted locally by each local authority and what resources will be available for implementation? The SEND system stands or falls on the availability of good quality support in the different places where children and young people live their lives: at home, at school, in their local community and online. Disabled children, young people and their families continually demonstrate their resourcefulness and resilience. How will the SEND review ensure the infrastructure they need to live their lives is there in every community?
With three months until the consultation closes, it is essential to listen and learn from the insights of the people the system is there to support. This must include the fullest range of experiences possible, including disabled children, young people, family members and young carers. It’s vital to hear from those who aren’t ‘in the SEND system’ or receiving any formal support, as well as those who may need additional support to communicate their experiences. At Kids we will share our frontline expertise and do everything we can to amplify the voices of disabled children and young people. They are the future and the system is theirs to shape.