Tuesday, 19 March 2019

EHCPs - not worth the paper they are written on?

There is much in the media about Education, Health and Care Plans (which replaced Statements in Education several years ago) and how challenging it can be to obtain an assessment for one, let alone  succeed in securing one which adequately supports your child. But if your child HAS one, has had one (and a Statement prior to that) for many years you might be forgiven for assuming his or her needs were recognised, addressed and that they were receiving support in school or college. You might breathe a sigh of relief that there was relative calm after years of stormy campaigning for adequate support. You might assume that you could go back to parenting, relish the mundane and take a back seat - because the "professionals" are doing their job.

That was my mistake this academic year - after over a decade of fighting for our son I made the classic mistake of taking my eye off the proverbial ball. As a result he's now on the brink of dropping out of college after six traumatic months - after nine months since his last Annual Review; during which time not a single professional has viewed his EHCP - or even commented on the fact that they haven't viewed it- because the local authority "forgot" to issue an updated one last May.

For Real. They "forgot".
Beggar's belief doesn't it?

We had an early Annual Review before his  GCSEs and in good time before leaving High School, carefully scheduled to ensure transition took place in a timely manner, before our son was cut loose for an extended summer. The draft stated it was "essential" he was not "left to cope with his SEMH issues alone". And yet that is precisely what DID happen, and has continued to happen until now. Despite many questions, emails and enquiries only this last week have I discovered how badly he has been let down.

Council for Disabled Children's advice on the Annual Review
In Suffolk, EHCPs can take months to issue they are so behind. A review inspection at the start of this year produced a scathing report on their SEND services. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission inspected Suffolk's SEND provision in January following a series of concerns raised two years previously which precipitated demands for improvements. The new report was published on March 4th and both watchdogs stated the county's Health and Education teams had "not made sufficient progress" in three out of four areas identified. The DofE is deciding what further intervention is necessary. The county's backlog of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) at the first inspection was apparently "so vast" that it needed to triple the issuing rate to complete them, and even then only 8 months late.

The wonderful Special Needs Jungle website has LOTS of good advice

Which is all very well, but it doesn't exactly fix the situation for our son and so many others. Clearly, they took many short cuts in the process with many falling through the cracks in the meantime. What is poorly understood though and rarely acknowledged is the phenomenal impact this rollercoaster of support has on young people. These "Plans" exist because a child has endured significant difficulties and challenges in their life. Because they have recognised issues which the local authority, school and health have decided collectively cannot be met without one. This is pretty significant since "School Action" and "School Action Plus" no longer exist and the vast majority of kids are now expected to manage with in-school support, and you would be forgiven for thinking that EHCPs are pretty important, given a high profile and frequently referred to once issued. However our experience suggests nothing could be further from the truth and H has been left to manage without one over nine months of crucial transition from school to college causing significant trauma and damage to his mental and physical health, and to our family.

Aside from the LA "forgetting" to issue his EHCP, his school never chased college after receiving no response to an invitation to meet and discuss him. College never received or processed the paperwork they should have received and despite me reminding them on four occasions that he had an EHCP and it was only in October that it became obvious that he was not being supported adequately. This on top of enforced transition to adult health services at 16 (meaning absolutely no continuity in healthcare, no communication between any professionals and no support) it was a perfect storm for a terrible summer. He lost 5 kg, barely left the house, went from obsession to obsession and became very depressed. He picked up a bit in September but without travel training and support I spent the first six weeks finding him when he would get on the wrong bus, end up in the wrong part of town or just wait at the bus stop for an hour because he wasn't sure which bus to get on - or because the number he wanted didn't arrive. Once he even got hit by a bus wing mirror because he wasn't sure where to stand  and wait outside college. He hasn't kept up with any of his courses, in fact he's already had to drop one and has not bee motivated since the New Year since it's been obvious he's not keeping up.

So now we have a meeting with the LA and college to decide what we do next. To be honest I really don't know. Dropping out is the preferred option, to restart next year - but what on earth is he going to do for the rest of the academic year? And can he even cope with restarting? To be honest I don't have the answers, and the stress it's caused us collectively has been huge. When will professionals stop thinking about EHCPs as admin, and start thinking about them as representing young people? Because if they can't see the child behind the EHCP its central purpose has been lost.

As my friend said, it's time to get the Wonder Woman spandex out again. I thought I'd done fighting though, is it too much to ask that professionals do their job?

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