I started this blog back in 2008 to record the method I used to apply and gain a statement of SEN for one and then both of my sons. Now, in 2015...it's a case of 'plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Which, if my schoolgirl French has you flummoxed, means, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
It is a time for nostalgia this week. Son2, whose statementing journey I first wrote about, has this week left school, closing one chapter, ready for a new start at Sixth Form College in September. His school has a sixth form, but he wants to graze new pastures, supported by his brand new Education, Health and Care Plan (I hope). I haven't written much about my sons' transfer to EHCPs, largely because neither young man yet has one, despite Son1’s transfer starting at the end of 2014. We are, dare I say it, getting tantalisingly close and are just waiting for their personal budget applications to be resourced despite there being no money in the PB pot.
It has been a somewhat arduous process and not just for me. As my boys are either in, or transferring to, sixth form (I can hardly believe it!) the cases were handled by our Pathways team for whom statutory plans were a completely new kettle of fish. We didn't have a great start, with being told that the LA would decide if my boys got an EHCP or a non-statutory, ‘Pathways Plan’. Sorry? A what? Hurried enquiries were made of the DfE and it was soon admitted that a mistake had been made and that I’d probably saved them lots of money in legal fees further down the line. My pleasure. I wrote about this last year here,
Son1 played a useful role in his transfer meeting, but Son2’s transfer meeting, when it happened, was hard going. The case officer was lovely but Son2, 15, didn’t fancy engaging much. It was clear that he needed a new Educational Psychology assessment as he hadn't had his statement changed since it was issued. A nice lady Ed Psych from the LA came, but Son2 didn’t want to talk to her either. Once hubby and I arrived we realised he was hungry, thirsty and overwhelmed, never a good combination for him (or anyone). Once he had been fed and watered a little, he was able to take part to a small extent, largely because we are very good at interpreting what he wants to say. The resulting report captured his needs well. In all meetings we played a full part and our views were listened to.
Since then, drafts have gone back and forth for both young men and it has been extremely difficult to fill out some of the sections as the design was rather confusing. Another hold up was that Son2 changed his mind over his sixth form destination at the last minute, meaning another redraft and a rethink over how to implement his much-needed health provision. Both boys now have health needs and I think I've come up with a cost-effective and rather innovative (IMHO) solution for provision (which I will detail in another post), that I feel embodies the flexibility of these reforms through using a personal budget. Of course I don’t have the final EHCP yet, but I feel somewhat confident that what I have come up with will be much cheaper, more appropriate for my boys’ needs and a lot less faff for the LA (as I’m organising it) than any other solution.
I won’t go on too much about all this as yet other than to say that I believe the issues we have faced are the result of the changes having virtually no lead-in time after the publication of the ‘final’ Code of Practice (although the CoP has already been updated since then). You can't train staff in a new system that is to be immediately implemented to hundreds of young people when you don’t know exactly what the rules are. Especially if you're expecting them to write legally compliant documents when they have never done this before.
We are so far over deadline it isn't worth thinking about, but for us, I would rather this, than to accept something unsatisfactory to meet an arbitrary deadline. I feel that for any parent who wants to be fully involved in the process that includes a health and if you're lucky, a social care assessment, it is very unlikely you will meet the statutory deadlines of 14 weeks for an under 16's transfer and 20 for a 16-25 transfer or new application. I feel this will need to be revised if this process is going to produce thorough and effective EHCPs.
I actually think my sons’ two case officers have done well in difficult circumstances. I have been happy to be patient while they got to grips with things and they have been patient with me too. As far as my experience goes, the SEN department has been responsive when I have highlighted issues and changes have been made accordingly although of course, I recognise that I am the Special Needs Jungle lady and I am also fortunate to know helpful people inside the LA who care about getting things right. I also care about getting things right and not just for my sons, but so that other families can have a better experience as a result of my own. I have been able to play a full part in constructing the EHCP in co-production with my case officers and I hope our experiences have added to the learning of the department as a whole (other than don't have me as a client!) to ensure that transfers can proceed more smoothly for other parents.
If any LAs would like to speak to us about this, please let me know. 😉 We'd also like to appeal to anyone who has had a good, co-productive experience to let us know as it is important to highlight good practice where it occurs. As human beings, we are ALL responsible for helping each other, whether parent or practitioner. It should NEVER be a case of 'I'm alright so I can walk away'. If I'd done that, there would be no Special Needs Jungle, would there?
So on to a few quick and dirty tips on how to get what you need for your child and still stay sane. I'll work on evolving and refining these for our upcoming book that will update 'Getting Started With Statements'
13 Quick & Dirty Top Tips
- KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: Read our Getting Started Checklist page. This will set you well on the right road and means this top tips is much shorter than otherwise! It details how you should get all your existing reports ready before your apply or begin the transfer process. If you're not sure when your child will be transferred, email your SEND department to find out so you can be prepared. You will normally only get two weeks warning.
- KNOWLEDGE IS POWER PART 2: Read the new SEND Code of Practice. You don’t need to plough through it all, it has a good index you can click through to the relevant section for your child. Browse the IPSEA site as it has a mine of information. Read or print off our SEND Flow charts as a 'headline' guide to the process.
- Obtain a list of interventions currently in play for your child as they may not be fully recorded. What’s working, what isn’t, why isn't it? Look again at your current, up to date evidence. What else do you need? A new Educational Psychology report? A Speech & Language report? An Occupational Therapy report? A paediatrician report? Make sure you voice this at the multidisciplinary meeting, but don't wait for this meeting to happen - these assessments take time and have waiting lists so speak to your SENCo or someone else who knows your child well.
- Think about the kind of provision you envisage would be ideal for your child. Include any out of school activities, therapies, equipment and respite. Include this in your parental submission.
- Think about the kind of outcomes you would want to see for your child in 12 months, five years and 16+ - think about independence. Is this likely? If not, what provision would you be aiming for then? Yes, you do need to think this far ahead even if your child is small.
- Be very methodical. For example: My child has this need. The current provision of x is insufficient because…. My child would benefit from x but this is outside the school's SEN budget and so a plan may be needed for this progress to be made.
- If you need to be critical of current provision, do it constructively. What's missing and why? Is it money? Is it lack of training? Access to facilities (this is where a Personal Budget can come in)
- Prepare your own report/parental submission. This can be lengthy, particularly if it is a first application, or, if this is a transfer, much of the early information should be included from the statement. Don't rely on this though; go through your child’s statement and highlight areas that must not be left out of a new plan. For example, some issues may have changed because your child is older, but others will still exist or may be even more pronounced so it’s important to ensure this is noted. If you have new reports, make sure you refer or quote important sections from the reports within your parental submission, in case the reports “go missing” on the way to the decision making panel.
- Prepare your child for the meeting by explaining what will be happening - your SENCO should help them prepare a 'one page profile' type document for their own views or you might to do this with them yourself if this is possible.
- Be emotional where passion is needed but remember this is a legal process. You must be analytical and objective where this will demonstrate your case. Speak with confidence and try to maintain a civil relationship. This is a new system and honest mistakes will be made- far from taking pressure off the parents, the opposite is true, you need to be on the ball. Hopefully you will have an Independent Supporter (ask when your transfer is notified or your application is registered) Be polite in emails and on the phone. Make notes before you call and make notes of your conversations. Print out or save emails. Remember, you are ALL people under pressure. Stay calm. Being stressed and over-emotional will mean you will miss things.
- Do not accept a draft EHCP that you have had no part in. This is now coproduction. If you have read this site, you will know this.
- To ensure you have everything straight in your mind and so you can express your child’s needs, it is a good idea to create a table with columns for ‘Your child’s Needs’, one for provision that could meet this need, including who you think should do it and how often and another column with your comments. You may find this is accepted and included as part of your valued contribution. I work on the theory of bringing solutions, not problems so think it through.
- Before anything goes to a panel, check with your case officer that all the reports and appendices are included. List and reference them or check this has been done.
What are your top tips? What have I missed or what have you found useful that you could share with others? We need your help to help other parents!