Coronavirus Spotlight: SEND Local Support

Tom Quilter - Senior Development Officer for the Information, Advice and Support Services Network shares his thoughts on how the Coronavirus pandemic will affect services providing Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) support to children and young people and their families.

I firmly believe that people who work in the SEND sector do so because they genuinely care about better outcomes for those with SEND and their families.

It’s not a role people fall into or are in for the money or fame (wouldn’t that be nice!) It’s something they do because they care about supporting better futures for those they work with.

This is one of the key reasons SEND services are finding this time particularly challenging. It’s tough to accept that we’re less able to provide services at the level, volume and quality we would like. It’s hard to make decisions on what is essential and what’s not, when everything feels essential. And we know all too well the impact our services have and what happens when those services are lost or depleted. But I also think this is why local SEND services are some of those best placed to rise to the challenge of Coronavirus.

The Coronavirus crisis has presented serious challenges for local services supporting children and young people with SEND and their families. Many of those that access these services, with or without EHCP’s and with or without school placements, will have been relying on them for the care, routine, structure and support they need to get by.

Now with less access to their support networks, both paid and unpaid, these children and young people will be facing an even greater challenge as they readjust. Some groups of children with SEND are of particular concern, including:

  • Those in the process of seeking an EHC needs assessment, who may well not have automatic school placements.
  • Those on SEN Support whose needs may be too challenging to meet at home by parents without their usual support network.
  • Those in residential schools not able to see their families.
  • Those missing contact with the people they rely upon, like the key workers they need to communicate through, occupational therapists who know exactly how to support their movement, or teachers who know exactly the help they need when things become overwhelming or challenging.
  • Those not classed as vulnerable as their needs were being met as things were, but whose needs, health and outcomes may now be hampered without their usual routine.

Local SEND Support Services are acutely aware of these challenges, and of the spiralling needs and anxieties of those they  work with. But their ability to respond is hampered by the very difficult circumstances they find themselves in.

Most services rely on meeting directly with families. Yet, most are running at a severely reduced capacity due to sickness, self-isolation or caring responsibilities. Managers are not only trying to keep their services running but are doing so while managing anxieties in their teams, learning new technologies, being drawn into other areas of ‘key’ work, and completely overhauling their way of delivering support. On top of that, they need to relearn, understand and respond to constantly changing policies and guidance. And they are doing all this while managing their own and their family’s personal lives and health needs during highly unsettling times.

But as we’ve seen so many times in the SEND sector, services are stepping up in the most challenging times. We’re seeing guidance developed at a lightning pace and distributed by those managing a multitude of other responsibilities. We’re seeing this shared in an accessible way that people can make sense of and understand, which is essential. We’re seeing services move online and onto the telephone or video call, finding new ways to reach people, utilising advice from each other and centrally. We’re seeing managers, colleagues and families listening, understanding and respecting each other and each other’s personal situations. And vitally we’re seeing services supporting each other even more then they always do: talking to each other, learning from each other and doing all they can to work together to lessen the impact on those with SEND and their families. It is essential they can continue to do this with support, guidance, the right platforms and accessible, information.

Through all the policy, legal complexities and bureaucracy of the SEND system, which can feel so frustrating at times, I think we’ve learnt two important things. Firstly, that the policies, complexities and bureaucracy are there for a reason and that things are more challenging without them. But also that the core value of local SEND services, and all those in the world of SEND, shines through.

Those that work in the SEND sector want the best outcomes and futures for people with SEND and their families. With the right support they will continue to meet the challenges they face and do all they can to support those that need it the most. As a sector we need to continue to do all we can to support this and ensure we all have the right access to support around law, policy, practise, mental health, home working, lone working, and technologies to enable this to continue as best it can.

The Council for Disabled Children is collating useful resources relating to Coronavirus and SEND here.