SEN reform: All about the Independent Supporter

You may have heard that in the new SEN system, parents can ask for support through an Education, Health and Care Assessment by an Independent Supporter.

Families can ask for help when they apply for an assessment, if they feel they need it and, crucially, subject to availability.  The government has set aside £30 million until 2016 to recruit, train and implement 12 independent supporters per area who are supposed to take on a "key working approach"

The charity, Council for Disabled Children which is operating as the government's strategic partner on the SEN reforms, has also been appointed by the DfE to be the developer of this new role (it's claimed there was a tendering process but no one I've asked has been able to point to who else bid or even knew about it). The CDC has so far awarded contracts to Sense to develop the legal training package required for Independent Support training, and NTDi to lead on the evaluation of the Independent Support programme. Sense will be working with highly experienced SEN lawyer, , Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and  Solicitors to deliver the training.

At the end of this post I have a question for you about your views of what you would want to see in an Independent Supporter - and what you wouldn't, so read on and then pitch in.

Independen

The CDC has also run a process to contract a number of independent voluntary, community and private organisations with " local knowledge and expertise" to deliver an Independent Support service in each local authority area from 1 September 2014. Some may be larger services that offer support across several local authority areas.

The CDC will be announcing the recipients of the Independent Support - Voluntary and Community sector funding on Tuesday 22nd of July here. {I will endeavour to update this post after the announcement}

Parent Partnerships have also been given cash to offer Independent Support services. This seems sensible because they are already operating in an advice and often, a support role already, but they will also have to develop the capacity, access training to be offered by Early Support and supervise their IS workers (not to mention recruit them in the first place).

This is the presentation from CDC to Parent Partnerships about what is on offer and what is expected from those PPS' appointed.

Here is the text about Independent Supporters from the (still draft) Code of Practice:

2.20 Families may receive help from an independent supporter, provided by private voluntary and community sector organisations, who is independent of the local authority. Independent supporters will be recruited locally and receive accredited training, including legal training, to help any family going through an EHC needs assessment and the process of developing an EHC plan.

Local authorities should work with organisations that are providing independent supporters to ensure there are arrangements agreed locally to offer help from an independent supporter to as many families as possible who require it.

2.21 Local authorities should adopt a key working approach, which provides children, young people and parents with a single point of contact to help ensure the holistic provision and co-ordination of services and support.

Key working may be provided by statutory services in health, social care and education, or by the voluntary, community, private or independent sectors. Key working can be offered to any family where children and young people have SEN or disabilities, for example if they receive SEN support in schools or nurseries or in preparing for adulthood.

Approaches will vary locally, but the main functions of key working support should include some or all of the following:

  • emotional and practical support as part of a trusting relationship
  • enabling and empowering for decision-making and the use of Personal Budgets
  • co-ordinating practitioners and services around the child or young person and their family
  • being a single point of regular and consistent contact
  • facilitating multi-agency meetings
  • supporting and facilitating a single planning and joint assessment process
  • identifying strengths and needs of family members
  • providing information and signposting
  • advocating on behalf of the child, young person and/or their family
  • facilitating the seamless integration of clinical and social care services with specialist and universal services

I think it's a little unlikely any will be up and running by September 1st, considering the summer holidays are upon us, but who knows?

The Independent Supporter role is fundamentally a very good idea but it is being emphasised that not every parent will get one, although I was told by the DfE in this post a while ago which is almost identical to the above:

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 request it.

"Require" and and "request" are quite different as the first implies a need whereas the the second is more of a want, but "require" is what appears in the actual CoP so we will have to go with that.

In fact, I can't imagine that any family will not "require" help through this new, somewhat confusing and certainly complicated system. Really, who wants to navigate it alone? Not me! I would love to be able to offer SNJ independent supporters - a country-wide small army of savvy, sassy, supportive and strong supporters who can deal with every situation calmly and with a keen knowledge of the laws, facts and potential excuses they may come up against. Alas, we are not that big a team to even have dared to imagine bidding 🙁 . But they sure would be awesome, wouldn't they? I know a few mums I'd have on my team straight away! One day, maybe!

Dreaming aside, the question that springs to my mind is who decides, when there are only 12 ISs per area whatever the size of the LA, which families will have the benefit of the help provided by an Independent Supporter and which will miss out, even if they "require" one? What if a family misses out purely because there aren't enough to go round and then that family is turned down on any aspect of their child's assessment - will this be grounds for appeal? Of course, having an IS is not a right and the CoP says "as many families as possible" which is a complete get-out clause.

It may be that 'LA1' is small and has enough well-trained Independent Supporters to help every family who applies for a Statutory Assessment for their child. Hurrah! But 'LA2', a large, sprawling, county based local authority has not even been able to recruit the basic 12 - maybe no one has bid for the local contract even, maybe their Parent Partnership just doesn't have the capacity either. What then? How is that fair to the parents and young people living in LA2? And it isn't even a legal right to have one so you can't appeal - fair has nothing to do with the law.

Methinks some urgent thinking needs to be done here - or perhaps it has been and no one has disseminated that information yet. I would be happy to be corrected on anything we say on this site that isn't completely accurate because I know that parents (and many professionals) depend on us to give them the right information in a readable, understandable format.

And, presumably, along with contracts, there will be a work assessment, payment, monitoring and ongoing skills training as well as training about liaising with the different services. And what happens if it turns out you don't get on with your IS or you don't feel they're doing a good job? There needs to be minimum standards and a complaints procedure and I hope all these things are under construction, so to speak.

But over to you - an Independent Supporter will work closely with your family. If there was an "Independent Supporter Code of Conduct", what do you think should be on it? Let's make our own parent-sourced plan - leave your thoughts in the comments and I'll gather them up and make another post about it.

Tania Tirraoro
Follow

Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
Follow

10 Comments

  1. Vicki Wallace

    I think IS would be a great idea, all the points you raise are valid. I have been involved in the pilot of converting our statement to an EHC. We didn’t have an IS, but because we were part of the pilot we had a SENCO working with us who is working for the LA. I wrote the original plan and then we all met to discuss it, I found having the other SENCO in the meeting really useful. Where the rest of us know my son well, we were emotionally involved, but the SENCO was able to listen to what we said about him and turn them into outcomes or solutions. I think it was really valuable to have someone there that knows the systems and has a knowledge of SEN, but not necessarily the child.

  2. Amanda

    Surely the truth here is that this is just a way for the larger services/charities to line their pockets while they offer another service that is generic and does little to support the family or child.Rather than a service/charity being asked to tender what should actually happen is that the pool of money is there and the parent when accessing an EHC Plan then has the option to choose someone to support them and that person is funded from the pool.Why do we have to be in a situation where someone will say “oh you can have some independent support, but,we will tell you where they come from”. Here Parent Partnership were terrible in our EHC Plan not having a clue!! On top of that the independent facilitator there as the lead professional for the meetings was even worse actually stating facts that were not! And that was someone supposedly trained to be such a person in this pathfinder area. It is a good thing that the lead responsibility is removed from SENCOs but what good is it when even those already trained to run the process don’t have a clue and actually sit and argue when you point out they are wrong. We had our own advocate with us who comes from a small charity for free.He knew more than everyone in the room and having met an consulted with the actual civil servants who wrote the plan I was lucky to have him there to put them all right. I would always want that person again or someone similar. When you ask people to tender for money it all too often becomes about how much they can take and make rather than not how they can best help for the cheapest rate possible.

  3. StephsTwoGirls

    I think the whole IS idea was meant well, but a half cooked one at best… sound familiar?! It possibly came out of the fact that certain Parent Partnerships could not be relied upon to give unbiased advice, and that is something that so many parents hope for when setting out down this path. We also now have a Plan in place (subject to amendments we have objected to, ahem) and so I suspect the chance of us receiving Independent Support in the future is limited. Personally I’d want to know who that person was and whether I could work with them, and if they knew more than me… and it’d probably end up being a lot more work in the long run. I can see for lots of families they’d be a great help though, but would those families know how to request one? I’d have considered being an Independent Supporter myself but talk in this county was of it being a voluntary role… I think not.

    As in so many cases, I think this money could have been much better spent on support directly helping the children, or on developing suitable educational provision.

  4. Bren

    My concern is with the bullet point list. Let’s start at the top:

    ‘Offer emotional and practical support in a trusting relationship’. So the IS should have counselling qualifications.
    ‘Enabling and empowering…PBs’. Now they need to teach maths to those who may not grasp basic concepts.
    ‘Coordinating practitioners and services….’ We all know how difficult it is to sort a CAF in a timely manner.

    Shall I go on? This is a HUGE undertaking, and all to be done within a slimlined timescale? The concept is ideal but totally unrealistic. If an IS really set about providing all that’s on that list, they will quickly end up burning out. I also see duplication with other roles such as school-based Parent Support Advisors, PP volunteers, SENCOs, Keyworkers etc etc.

    I think from what I’m being told & research I’ve read, most parents want one single Keyworker to call their own, who is knowledable, understanding and available when needed. Unfortunately I’m not sure an IS really fits the bill. I think the fall-down is teh lack of availability before anything else.

  5. Being cynical, I suspect that the IS system will have the same benefits and flaws as the current parent partnership officers – some are good whereas some just see their role as being to trynd make sure everything is negotiated so parents don’t end up in Tribunal, regardless of whether the negotiated statement is actually any good. I am also concerned about the extent to which the IS will get continuing training and support. This Act and particularly the draft Code of Practice is not yet fully fledged and is likely to be the subject of a number of court cases before the ground rules are fully established. So far we don’t know how far the IS will be supported on a continuing basis in the way that organisations such as IPSEA, which really knows the nuts and nolts of the system, provides continuing training for its advocates.

    My fear is that some of the IS will be less than useful, but there will be inadequate quality checks, with the result that parents are wrongly taken in by their description as “independent”. I hope I am wrong, but past experience has not been encouraging. As with much of the Act, this has been set up in a rush with inadequate support or assessment of the pathfinders’ experiences, presumably to fit some political imperative rather than the interests of parents and young people in getting things set up properly from the beginning

  6. Christina Cramsie

    I too am concerned that the IS will just be parent partnership under another name. After going against my local pp advice and pursuing (and getting) a statement and special school placement for my son,I don’t trust anyone and I think I would rather do it on my own with help from caf/ipsea helplines.

  7. Katy Carr

    Puzzling choice of training providers. Sense seems to farm out its legal advice to another private firm, Irwin Mitchell only do a little education law as part of a public law department, and Steve Broach isn’t at Doughty Street and is better known for public law. Why not go for someone with a track record of supporting parents like IPSEA?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.