Parents talk of the tough road in getting their disabled children a proper education in Wandsworth

By Sian Bayley BBC Local Government Reporter

Parents have expressed relief after town hall education chiefs were slammed for only providing school plans for half special needs pupils within the time limit.

An inspection carried out by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission has criticised Wandsworth council and the health managers for “significant weaknesses” in its services.

The report said they must “urgently improve” the school plans and say how they will tackle these problems.

According to the latest statistics, just 45.1 per cent of plans are completed in the borough within the statutory 20 week period.

One mum has a daughter with autism, but who is kind, funny, and intelligent. She is generally seen as ‘high functioning’ at school, but can easily get anxious and overwhelmed.

She can lash out and hurt herself.

She tends to let out her frustrations at home where she feels safest. But this has made it difficult for Sarah (not her real name) to get her daughter an Educational Health Care Plan to help her at school because teachers do not always recognise the problems she faces.

It has taken Sarah since March last year to get a plan in place, a process she describes as “long and exhausting”.

Sarah is pleased the report has acknowledged problems within the service, but is wary of the council and local health services, and does not wish to be named for this story.

She says despite the report’s praise for ‘co-producing’ reports with parents, she felt there is “a definite lack of trust.”.

“They treated me like the absolute enemy rather than a parent with a very vulnerable child who needs help,” she said.

“Your life is in their hands, I was trying to be professional but I was very upset and concerned and worried for my child. Everything seems like a struggle and a fight when we are already under enormous pressure with our family situations.”

But she says her family is one of “the lucky ones” for actually getting an EHCP in place.

She claims many families don’t even get through the process.

“Unless you are fairly confident and have the energy levels and time then you are going to fail,” she said.

She also expressed concern about co-ordination between health services and the authority.

“No-one seems to be speaking to each other, I seem to be the person who has to join up the services and CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and the local authority.”

Another parent who does not wish to be named is currently home-schooling her son, as she feels his school is unable to meet his needs.

She has criticised EHCPs as “woolly” and “not specific enough”.

At this week’s Education and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, councillors discussed the recent report and confirmed a Written Statement of Action would be written jointly with the CCG by the end of March.

A new Head of SEND is likely to appointed within the next week, with final interviews taking place on Wednesday [February 12].

When questioned about tracking SEND performance in the borough, cabinet member Will Sweet said he was kept informed about the issues in specific areas of SEND provision.

He said that the committee has been working to address some of these problems, and has been having discussions with its partners about how to solve them.

However, he also emphasised that Wandsworth is “not alone” in producing a Written Statement of Action, and that he knew it was a possible outcome.

A report by the CQC and Ofsted in 2017 said that in the first year of inspections, just under a third of the local areas inspected were required to provide a WSOA.

Wandsworth has not had a head of SEND since last summer, but cllr Sweet said he was satisfied there was suitable coverage for the interim period.

The recently appointed director of children’s services, Ana Popovici, accepted the findings in full and said she was “committed to transforming the service”.

At this week’s meeting she confirmed the council is currently reviewing its backlog of EHCPs, and has already reduced them from 190 to 93.

But it may take some time for the statistics to improve.

Ms Popovici said alongside the council’s partners in the NHS they are starting to address the areas for development, and implement “robust” mechanisms to track and monitor the timeliness for assessments, as well as their quality.

The council has provided additional training for new staff around the recording of data and a rationalisation of data storage and a data cleansing exercise is underway.

 


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