Supporting parents to achieve best outcomes for their children

Written by Tania TirraoroDate 22 Mar 2017

Tania is our guest blogger from parent-led information and resources website, Special Needs Jungle. She gives her personal view on how parents can be supported to ensure best outcomes for their children and highlights that the sector still has a long way to go to ensure parents have the information they need. You can find Special Needs Jungle online here: https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/

I’ve just been to the last ever annual reviews for my two ASD sons. They both hope to head for university this September where Education, Health and Care plans (EHCPs) are no longer legally enforceable. 

That said, it was still important to update their outcomes for the end of the school year and to also ensure longer-term aspirations were clearly written out, along with the detail about the support needed to get them there. Legal or not, university disability support departments are finding these accounts useful as a guide to setting up appropriate help. Some outcomes progress and change every year, but one for my younger son, being able to independently organise a project so that he stays on track, has been a struggle since he began school. So is this an outcome or an aspiration? Or both? 

Terminology matters, so EHCPs need to make clear what is a short-term goal for a child to reach and what is a longer-term aspiration. For example, wording such as “By the end of Year x, y will have achieved….” So I’m glad to see some good tips in the CDC’s new EHCP examples of good practice.

But that’s so much further down the road than lots of families are even getting right now. I’d hoped that, two years on, the difficulties arising from the swift introduction of the SEND reforms would have been overcome. How hard could it be to get to grips with the new law and abide by it? Granted, the SEND Code of Practice was light on the ‘how to’, but it was pretty clear that the government’s intention was to put families at the heart of the assessment process and to make provision fit the child, not the other way round.

Now, in early 2017, it saddens me to admit that, at the moment, the naysayers who warned that it was all going to go to hell in a handcart were right. Local authorities do not, by and large, seem to have grasped the basic tenets of the reforms so that everything they do ends up with better outcomes for children and families. They have, instead, moulded the law into their own set of “alternative facts”, making everything and everyone bend to fit how they want things to be done. 

But just because that’s where we currently are, it doesn’t mean that’s what we have to accept. If the tumultuous world changes of 2016 have taught us anything, it’s that ordinary people can change the comfortable structures that only benefit those who already have the power. Local authorities have got away with it so far because parents are too hard-pressed caring for their disabled children and making sense of what’s law and what’s made up, to march to the Department for Education (DfE).

When your child has been excluded, has inappropriate or no support at school or can’t find a suitable place to start with, few have time to think of the bigger picture, even if they know what that’s supposed to be. 

This is why parental advocacy is so important. New parents entering the dense jungle of special educational needs provision or the transfer to EHCP, are not given an easy-to-follow road map. That’s why at Special Needs Jungle, we have developed our Special Needs Jungle Flow Charts to help guide families through the process from SEN Support through to what to do it if all goes wrong. 

But parents need more than this and that’s why the government and CDC developed Independent Supporters to guide parents through the statutory assessment process. Only parents report to me they often aren’t finding out about them, despite, apparently  99% of LAs telling the DfE that they do inform parents about the service. It’s also clear from parents contacting me that many are not even finding the established IASS (formerly Parent partnership) or locating the information they need, in the way they can easily understand it. 

And that’s the key: there is plenty of information around, including online advice and legal information, but only for those web-savvy parents who can access it.

And that’s not good enough. Parents tell me that when they do have an Independent Supporter, they find it a great help. However, it’s unknown if it will continue to be funded after next year, when the government support for implementation ends. 

Parents shouldn’t have to become experts in SEND law to get the outcomes their children need and I strongly believe the IS service should be made permanent along with the required funding.

This will allow providers to plan for the future, rather than just year to year. 

There is not just one single way to support parents in achieving better outcomes for their children. However, there is only one legal structure and locally, SEND staff in local authorities, health and social care must follow it. Then they must collaborate with schools and advocacy providers, using evidence from experience to provide clear and factual information, available in a variety of formats. Only then parents will be properly supported to fulfil their own role as full partners at the centre of the process in helping their children have the best future they can.