Curiouser and Curiouser.
No sooner does the Council for Disabled Children reveal the names of those organisations picked to provide Independent Support to parents in the new Education Health and Care Plan system, than the National Network of Parent Carer Forums drops a bit of a bombshell.
The very system that is supposed to help parents co-produce EHC Plans, did not bother to co-produce its design! Oops. Bit of an oversight, but then co-production is bloody inconvenient at times, isn't it?
The NNPCF released a detailed and somewhat miffed Position Statement, complaining that it had barely even been consulted, let alone closely involved with designing one of the most eagerly awaited parts of the reform - the deployment of £30million worth of keyworkers, 12 per area, who would gently lead, advocate, explain and assist parents through the new system, from assessment application through to helping them manage an appeal to the First SEND Tribunal (says it in the CoP so it must be true).
And yet the minutes of a recent Early Support and Independent Support Programme Board Meeting tells us the CDC is anticipating that Independent Supporters won't be doing any such thing when it comes to Tribunal.
"....CL [Christine Lenehan, of CDC] reassured the board that Independent Supporters will be working with and not against LAs and that legal training is provided to give Independent Supporters an understanding of the legal framework of the reforms, not advice on how challenge LAs on the law."
Now, this may just be an unfortunate choice of words, "working with and not against LAs", and if someone should know it is Mrs Lenehan, but I do think there needs to be some clarity and written confirmation about this in the SEND Code of Practice as to EXACTLY where the Independent Supporter role stops when it comes to appeal.
Back to the NNPCF. This is the body that links together all the country's Parent Carer Forums and has trumpeted co-production from the roof-tops from the start (as have we here of course, as most of us are former PCF co-chairs) It is funded by the DfE, as is the Parent Carer Forums participation in the Pathfinder project.
The position statement is so jaw-dropping from an organisation that is used to, in this process, working closely with the CDC and the DfE, that I'm just going to print most of it below.
"NNPCF have been watching the progress of the development of the Independent Supporter programme since it was announced earlier this year. To a certain extent the NNPCF have been involved in discussions about the role of Independent Supporters with the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) and the Department for Education (DfE); however as the programme has developed some concerns have been raised by both our Steering Group and Local Parent Carer Forums around the implementation plans for this programme."
"The [NNPCF] Steering Group were not involved in initial discussions about the Independent Support Programme but were reassured by both the Department for Education and the CDC that as the programme progressed the parent carer voice via the NNPCF would be central to the process. The NNPCF Steering Group were pleased to have had some early discussions with the CDC and felt this was a useful dialogue which we believed was starting to shape what was going to be a very helpful addition to the Reforms as we all transition from the old arrangements.
"One of the main messages we shared was the requirement that anyone who was involved in developing or delivering the Independent Support Programme in local areas should work in partnership with their Local Parent Carer Forum. This message was welcomed and reflected in the tender for the Evidence and Build Phase of the programme. The NNPCF were also involved with awarding contracts to organisations involved with this phase of the service and had representatives on the panel that evaluated the bids for this work. Within this landscape, the NNPCF were encouraged by the level of involvement and many Forums will be aware of our enthusiasm and how well the CDC had set the expectations of Forums and potentially those parents who are likely to be supported by the service."
"We are disappointed that parent carers have not been involved in strategically developing the programme, as we had thought we would be from January and that the need to work with Local Parent Carer Forums was not clearly articulated in the Invitation to Tender document..."
"It is disappointing that we have not been able to work with local [Parent Carer] Forums to do this, and to provide the parent carer perspective, view, and feedback from our parent carers as part of the full development process. The NNPCF Steering Group was however again invited to provide representatives to sit on the panel that evaluated the bids received. We accepted this invitation because we believed that it was essential that the parent carer voice was part of this process.
"As the Independent Support Programme has developed, the NNPCF unfortunately feel that the service definition and role of the Independent Supporters appears to be less clear than was originally expected. We are aware that there is a high level of concern in Local Parent Carer Forums regarding the level of local knowledge that Independent Supporters will have and how effectively they will be able to deliver the service to Young People and Families in any local area."
"Having not been involved in the co-production of the ultimate design as originally thought, we are restricted as to what degree we can influence this, however the NNPCF suggest that Parent Carer Forums establish a useful and effective relationship with their own group of Independent Supporters (ISs) with a view to ensuring that they meet their main aim of helping Young People and their families overcome the hurdles of the coming months."
"There is no guidance to determine how the ISs will gain knowledge of local practices or local implementation and how they will keep up to date with these over time. The NNPCF recommend that ISs work closely with Local Parent Carer Forums to ensure that everyone works together to maintain a balanced and knowledgeable approach to the evolving landscape in their areas."
Indeed in certain areas of the country, the IS contract has been awarded to organisations from a completely different part of country! Additionally, as some Parent Carer Forums are over-stretched as it is managing Pathfinder/implementation/parent information work, where the capacity will come from in helping the new IS organisation is a big question. And who will be paying them for it? Are they supposed to do it for free?
Talking about money... the NNPCF said in its statement that despite it had originally being stated that each area may get up to 12 ISs supporting the transition process, "however it might transpire that these numbers may not be achieved within the funding available. Consequently each local Independent Support service may look for local volunteers to help increase resource."
WTF? Get some people to do the job for free while others are paid for it? Are you kidding? It goes on to suggest that Forums may wish to recommend individuals or suggest areas to look for knowledgeable local resource.
"To this end NNPCF are absolutely clear that ALL ISs should be resourced locally and have explicit local knowledge of parent carer issues and the local support landscape."
Oh I know, why not ask the local (over-stretched and under-sized) Parent Carer Forum to do that as well? For free? Supposing they have that knowledge themselves in the first place! Let's not forget that PCFs across the country are of different size and have been established for different lengths of time and have wildly varying capacities.
Each IS service provider has to determine its own referral procedure, i.e. how to apply & which parents will get the benefit of an Independent Supporter. The NNPCF is calling for Parent Carer Forums to be included within the process or understand it so that they can signpost those who need support correctly. But again, some PCFs, like most voluntary committees, have only a small number of active and knowledgeable members, with others who just turn up to meetings and do little in between (for many reasons). How are they going to find the time for this? And why should they be the ones to fulfil this role anyway? Who says they want to decide whether another parent should get support or not? That's a big responsibility and the DfE said, as I stated yesterday:
Local authorities should work with organisations providing independent supporters to ensure that there are arrangements to offer help from an independent supporter to as many families as possible who require it.
Semantically, you can say well, "as many parents as possible" means within the available capacity, but now you're adding another layer of judgement, because the implication is that there will not be enough ISs to come close to the number of parents "requiring" one - i.e. all of them, especially in this transition phase. And so PCF reps, all parent carers themselves, but possibly with no other qualification than belonging to a committee, can help judge whose needs are greatest. This is no disrespect to PCFs - I'm sure most would agree that judging which of your parent-carers-in-arms can fend for themselves in a new, largely untried, assessment for their disabled child is not something they would relish or feel qualified for. And DEFINITELY not unpaid!
This is a huge and, in our opinion, unrealistic expectation on forums, especially if they are expected to do this volunrarily. The NNPCF is in a very difficult position - on the one hand wanting their forums to be involved and on the other, knowing full well the highly impractical nature of this considering existing demands on PCFs and of course, demands on their time as parents of children with disabilities.
The statement also says:
- Forums should also understand the working practices so that they can help support its [IS service] delivery, monitoring and if necessary improvement over time.
- Forums should understand the legacy of the service so that once the ISs are no longer available, the lessons learnt and good practice is continued elsewhere.
Hold on... did that say, "once the ISs are no longer available,"? Well, yes, funding is only until 2016 initially, but surely they will continue to be supported after that? Won't they? Hello? Anyone know? Or will that be the job of the next government to decide?
This is most of their statement, but you can find it all here
Some questions we need answering by the DfE:
- Please explain the lack of co-production here that has so upset the NNPCF they have had to write this statement (though not sure why it took this long)?
- What WILL happen to the funding stream after 2016? Is the DfE expecting IS organisations to be sponsored? Take on advertising on the back of their jackets?
- Will this service be properly funded from the start - £30m is not enough to cover co-production from parent-carers (not necessarily PCFs)
- If parents carers DO get involved with the selection process (which just makes me feel sick even saying it) will they have training in it?
- If a parent is NOT lucky enough to get help and their application fails because of it (as I asked yesterday) what happens then? Can they complain? And to whom? The wording of who can have one in the CoP is too woolly for a parent to be able to appeal the lack of one.
- Will the Independent Supporter be able to advocate for the parent at a Tribunal?
Further reading (because you just know you want to):
Additional research: Debs Aspland
What's your view?