At the end of last year, there was much excitement in the world of SEND when the second edition of the Disabled Children - a legal handbook was published.
For those new to the Jungle, or for those who have not yet had to battle the system, this is an amazing Handbook providing much needed help for families trying to understand what the law actually means. The first edition of this book was fantastic but obviously, with so many changes in legislation recently, some of the content needed updating. Thankfully, here it is.
Disabled Children - a Legal Handbook (2nd edition):
We have to initially point out the poignant cover photo of the handbook. It shows a section of LB's Justice Quilt to honour and mourn the death of Connor Sparrowhawk (also known as LB). If you are not aware of the LB Bill campaign, please pop over to the site and find out more. Connor's family and an amazing team of supporters are avidly trying to change the law to help families with young people.
For me, seeing this on the front cover showed a level of understanding and empathy for families like ours by the authors, two of whom have been actively involved in the LB Bill development.
Steve Broach: Steve probably needs little introduction for many families. Steve is a Barrister at Moncton Chambers in London. His main focus is on the law and policy affecting children and disabled people. Steve has been involved in helping to write the LB Bill.
Luke Clements: Again, Luke is well known in the Jungle. He is the Cerebra Professor of Law and Social Justice at Leeds University and a leading expert on UK community care law and the rights of disabled people and carers to social and health care support.
Janet Read: Janet is an Associate Professor (Reader) Emeritus at the University of Warwick Medical School and an Honorary Professor at Cardiff Law School. Her research and publications focus on the human rights of disabled children and adults and their families. Janet also was one of the makers of the LB Justice Quilt.
There were also five other contributors to the Handbook - Rebekah Carrier, Camilla Parker, Louise Price, Martha Spurrier and Polly Sweeney. Many names that families in the Jungle will recognise.
What's covered in the handbook?
The handbook really does cover every aspect of the law surrounding disabled children. The first section gives an overview of the Legal Entitlements:
- Disabled Children's Services
- Equality and non-discrimination
It also provides an overview of the rights of parents, friends and family caring for a disabled children.
Each right is listed together with a list of the various paragraphs and sections in the book where detailed information is available.
I have to be honest, when I first turned to this page and skimmed (as we all do when we first look at a book) I was a tad confused by the paragraph listing however, it soon became clear. I am used to indexes with page numbers so it threw me. However, it was easy to understand as soon as I skimmed through the rest of the book and saw every paragraph was numbered. Actually, this is such a bonus when you are using the book as you can just list the paragraphs you need to refer back to rather than the page/chapter number - I have already personally had to do this.
The following sections are covered in the handbook:
- Understanding disabled children's lives
- Legal fundamentals
- Childrens Services
- Decision Making
- Equality and Non Discrimination
- Transition to Adulthood
Each chapter comes with its own index - all of which makes it so much easier to find the relevant piece of legislation or guidance you need. It also has a Key Points section - a sort of overview of things to consider within each section.
To give you an idea of how detailed each section is, the Education section contains 48 sub-sections in the index from the general principles to the key duties on schools; from the role of the SENCO to EHC Assessments, from the contents of an EHC Plan to Reviews; from Education other than at school to duties to Children without Education and from Exclusions to School and College Transport.
As well as explaining the legislation in a way that we can all understand, it also explains what the options are when problems arise. Let's be honest here, problems do arise and sadly families often face a battle, often while trying to understand what their rights are and what processes are available to them.
The handbook clarifies the complaints procedures. It covers complaints about children's social care provision, health care provision and education.
It explains Ombudsmen, disagreement resolution agreements, mediation, tribunals, judicial reviews, County Court claims, availability of Legal Aid and also provides details of additional sources of advice and support available to families.
Tables and Appendices:
The book provides a Table of Statutes (a written law passed by a legislative body, e.g. Children and Families Act), a Table of statutory instruments (the more detailed regulations which go with with the written law, e.g. Children and Families Act Personal Budgets regulations) and a Table of Cases (legal cases which have helped to determine future interpretation of the law; e.g. the "right to education" was covered in A v Essex CC). This may sound a bit irrelevant but believe me, when you are battling a system, having this information readily to hand will be something you say thanks for many times.
The Appendices are a great resource. They provide the details of the relevant legislation mentioned throughout the book (such as the Equality Act, the Children and Family Act, etc) and the International Conventions.
Would I buy it?
As a mum of three children with Statements of SEN, I find I am constantly having to refer to the law and hoping that I have managed to interpret it correctly.
Sometimes I just can't or I get it wrong and the feeling of failure is soul-destroying. As a mum I also do not have a legal department or funding for legal representation unlike many Local Authorities or schools.
I confess that despite any indications to the contrary, I often find the whole legislation thing a bit confusing. If we give our views on a piece of legislation here on SNJ, I always worry when it is published until Steve Broach retweets it or comments - always a problem if he dares to go on holiday.
I always remember spending one whole weekend trying to get my head around the Education Act whilst listening to my children playing outside with my husband. I remember crying because I wanted to be outside playing with them but I didn't want to fail my children by not knowing their rights. I also cried because I remember thinking I didn't want to spend the rest of my life having to learn the law inside out to protect them. I also didn't know which parts of the Act were actually relevant to the situation I was in so I was having to learn everything. It was a really heart breaking moment in my life.
This hand book means I can go out and play with my children.
It gives me an invaluable resource of having all the information I need in one place, split down into specifics and in a way I can understand. I can check the relevant pieces, without being overwhelmed. It is also written by people who really do know what they are talking about.
Sometimes the advice I have received from both practitioners and parents has been incorrect. Not on purpose but purely based on their own interpretation. Having this handbook removes those doubts.
The book costs £50. As our work at Special Needs Jungle is totally voluntary and we receive no funding from any source, we appreciate that £50 can be a lot of money for some families.
So here are a few suggestions, because I really believe having access to this book will be of benefit to families.
- Club together with a few other parents and have a joint copy.
- Ask your local library (if you still have one) to get a copy
- Ask your local support group to fundraise and buy a copy
- Add it to your birthday list
- Ask your local parent carer forum to purchase a copy
- Enter our giveaway and get the chance to win a copy
HOWEVER, if a PDF is okay, you can download that FOR FREE from the Council for Disabled Children's website and you will be able to download each relevant section. However, having it all in one book you stick post it notes and write notes in can't be beaten.
Buy from Amazon:
For clarity: We were provided with a copy of this handbook in order to review it. However, Special Needs Jungle do not provide positive reviews unless the product is something we would personally use or recommend.
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