It is a great privilege to be the first contributor towards this new blog column! SEN Talk is an amazing organisation that does a tremendous job of supporting local families who have children with additional needs.
I came across a random Facebook quote recently that struck a cord with me, it went as follows:
“No parent should be intimidated, retaliated against or made to feel guilty for advocating for what his / her child needs” – author unknown.
As a national advocate for families with SEN children, I work with some of the most courageous and dedicated parents. They will go to any lengths to ensure that their children are provided the right support at school, they will challenge professional expectations of what their child can achieve or become in life, they will stand against all odds when their Local Authority is insisting they cannot provide the school of their choice or agree to an EHC Assessment. They will defend their child when they become a victim of ‘blanket behaviour policies’ or if they are unfairly excluded.
These parents face a lack of communication from council services, broken promises, services that are underfunded and cannot deliver. They experience frustration, confusion, anger, and many tears, as they fight on despite both bureaucratic and personal obstacles that would seek to pull them down. Professionals can often view them as ‘difficult’ and ‘challenging’, but behind it all is a parent who simply wants the best for their child.
At times they are so exhausted, wanting to give up, deflated, but something in them says they must continue to press on for the sake of their child.
I write this blog as a tribute to families in the thick of the battle and hoping to see some the light at the end of the tunnel.
I have a cliché that I often use in my parent workshops, “if you don’t push, you don’t get”. This cannot be further from the truth in the SEN world, as I have witnessed repeatedly how the persistence of parents has paid off it in end.
I have seen cases where children have been refused an EHC Assessments on unlawful grounds, be overturned after a tribunal challenge. Cases where the Local Authority refused to secure a parental preference for a school, eventually concede after realising they are standing on weak grounds. Cases where health services failed to provide a suitable level of therapy provision and parents had to self-fund private assessments which were quantified and specified, then fight to get the Local Authority to fund this. I have seen cases where their children were illegally excluded from schools and parents had to fight to ‘clear the name of their child’.
The SEN world is an ‘unequal playing field’ and those who push often achieve better results than those who do not. This is confirmed by the SEN Tribunal statistics that show 89% of decisions are ruled in favour of parents.
It should not be this way as all children with additional needs should be entitled to the right provision to meet their needs. However, the current national climate of cuts to school budgets and diminishing council resources that has failed to meet the growing need of SEN children has fuelled as culture where parents often must fight to secure the right provision their child is legally entitled to.
I do not take my job lightly when I advocate for the interests of a child, whether I be in an annual review, professionals meeting or in a tribunal. I know the future destination of a young person is at stake. This was recently brought home to me, when I had to advocate for a young person who attended an independent special school. The Local Authority attempted to cease to maintain his EHC plan on the basis he has met all his outcomes and they should no longer fund the placement. After a tribunal appeal which challenged their lack of evidence for this, the Local Authority conceded. I was in awe, as I think what would have been the outcome of this young person if we had not challenged this decision.
Advocacy can be defined as representing the ‘interests and needs of others’, both myself and parents have discovered it has the power to literally to change the destination of a vulnerable young person.
I want to encourage all parents in the fight to continue to press on despite all the odds they face, although the journey is long, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Sunil will be giving our next Parent Talk on Monday 18th November 2019 on Education, Health and Care Plans: Transition to secondary school. Book your tickets today.