The world of special needs is, I have discovered, populated with extraordinary people - both those who care and do their best for their children and professionals who go the extra mile to provide whatever help they can.
One such lady is Gloria Vessel, a barrister who has for many years carried out pro bono work for families affected by disabilities and SEN. In a decade of helping families at the SEN Tribunal, Gloria has never lost a case. However, it became clear that she could not take on all the children whose parents were asking for her help so she founded the charity, Advocates for Children. Today, Gloria has written about the charity and its work exclusively for Special Needs Jungle.
For parents of children with disabilities it really is a jungle out there, especially when it comes to getting the right school, or the right schooling for your child. Parents are faced with a bewildering mass of Codes of Practice, deadlines, and the ever present prospect of having to take your case to a Special Educational Needs Tribunal. Advocates for Children is here to help. We are a relatively new charity; only three years old. Our volunteer Advocates help children with disabilities and life-limiting conditions aged 4 – 16 with problems at school. Our services are free.
Problems we deal with include getting the right educational support for a child at school, getting the right school for the child, giving parents advice on where they are going with their child’s case, or addressing the issues of bullying or abuse of children. We believe that when you are helping children one size does not fit all. No two cases are ever the same, and we know that every child and every family are unique, so we devise help to fit the needs of each family and each child.
Your child is never just a case number to us. Your child is a unique and special individual that we are privileged to advocate for. It is our policy to see each child that we Advocate for, so that we know best how to help them. Our central focus is always what is best for the child. We also give advice to parents over the telephone, where they simply have a query that they need some help with.
For many parents we can resolve a problem with one call. If parents want to be legally represented, we can help you to find the right solicitor, and to advise you on what you need to do. In certain circumstances, we would represent our own clients at a Special Educational Needs Tribunal, however we try as hard as we can to avoid a Tribunal if that is possible. The law is a vital tool for parents to be able to get help for their child, but we urge parents not to see it as a first resort, or as the only resort. So often parents will ring asking about Tribunals, or they are even be on their way to Tribunal, without ever having been told, or having been able to find out, what they actually need to do to give themselves the best chance of success at a Tribunal, or even understanding exactly what is involved. That is a dangerous position to be in. Knowledge is power, so we help to give you that knowledge.
It is also amazing how many parents have been told that they need to go to Tribunal without ever having really met with the Local Education Authority to discuss their child’s case. We can review a case and see where there are areas of agreement, as well as disagreement, and see if a solution can be arrived at by negotiation and not by immediate legal action. That benefits both sides and benefits the child. And, if it comes to a Tribunal, the parents will be much better prepared, and will know what they need to focus on. It really is good to talk! A Tribunal is a legal procedure and the evidence you put forward is vital to your case. We advise you on what the evidence is that you need. You know your child inside out, but a Tribunal Panel does not. They have to decide on what your child is all about by the written evidence in front of them. So, you need your written evidence to help you make your case. Of course you can talk about your child, but you need written evidence too.
As a barrister I have the greatest respect for and faith in the legal process, but I also know that the better informed parents are the better equipped they are to make all-important decisions for their children before that process begins. Advocates for Children believes in the dignity of the child. We champion the legal and human rights of the children we Advocate for and our watchwords are ‘Listen, Respect, Care’. Our Trustees are all Mums and Grandmums who really understand what our clients are facing and that is what we feel is our greatest strength, as it drives all that we do for these special children. Our Mission Statement is; To enable children with disabilities to have the opportunity to fulfil their true potential and have their chance to shine. We are proud to do just that.