We haven't carried an article about Independent Support for a while and now we have one today and another coming up soon! Independent Supporters have the role of helping parents through the EHCP process and every parent applying can request one. In fact, your SEND case officer should give you the details when you request an assessment for your child.
Today, Independent Supporter for Amaze Brighton, Diana Hunt, has written for us about the IS role and what you should expect
If you are confused about how the EHC assessment process works, about how to give your views, would like to know what an outcome is or what should go into a plan then an Independent Supporter should be able to guide you through. Independent Support is also available to support parents and young people during the process of transferring from a statement of SEN to an EHC Plan.
The Government recognised that parents and young people were likely to need support to navigate their way through the new SEND assessment system when it was introduced in September 2014.
Consequently, around 1800 Independent Supporters (ISs) have been recruited nationally specifically to support parents and young people during the EHC assessment or transfer process. The Council for Disabled Children (CDC) has been given responsibility for awarding IS contracts to independent providers for them to recruit supporters and run services in their areas.
There must be a service available in every local authority (LA) area. Funding comes from central government. LAs should signpost parents and young people to the Independent Support service when carrying out an EHC needs assessment.
It does seem though that information about IS is not filtering through to everyone who might benefit or at least not quickly enough and so I hope that the following information will be helpful.
Who are Independent Supporters?
Independent Supporters are recruited by local or national voluntary groups or organisations that have been awarded contracts by the CDC to provide an IS service in a particular local authority area. All ISs receive accredited training, including legal training, from the CDC, which they must pass before they start their roles. ISs are completely independent from the local authority.
Many ISs are themselves parents of children or young people with additional needs; others have a disability themselves or have a background of working in the area of special needs within education or an associated charity or advice service. Sometimes it’s a combination or all of the above! The service is free, is not means tested and the level of support will be tailored to the needs of parents and young people. ISs must have an enhanced DBS check in place.
What can an Independent Supporter do?
The primary role of the IS is to empower parents to negotiate the 20 week EHC needs assessment process, whether this is a new assessment or being carried out as part of the process of replacing a statement of SEN with an EHC Plan. Their role is time limited to this process and the IS steps down once parents have a finalised EHC Plan.
They can also work directly with young people to support them with the process including giving their views. ISs will provide information on how the EHC process and transfer process should be carried out and what the timescales are, they can help parents to think about how to present the views that they wish to give for the assessment, explain what outcomes should look like and will help parents to read through the draft plan once it’s received and support them in requesting any amendments they want to be made.
They should make sure that parents understand all the reports that have been obtained for the assessment and support them in asking questions of the relevant professionals about anything that’s not clear. ISs can attend meetings with parents or young people and discuss with them beforehand what to expect. ISs will not take over but just having someone alongside you in a meeting can be extremely reassuring and empowering. ISs should also be able to provide basic information about other services available in the area, explain what the Local Offer is and help parents and young people to access it.
What can’t an Independent Supporter do?
While ISs can explain how the EHC process should be carried out they cannot give legal advice. They can however signpost to other sources of information, such as the local Independent Advice and Support Service (formerly known as Parent Partnership), which in turn can provide information about other organisations that offer legal advice and information.
ISs cannot become involved in appeals to the SEN Tribunal, which would happen once the plan is finalised if parents or young people are not happy with it.
At what point does an Independent Supporter become involved?
Normally at the point the EHC assessment or transfer from a statement process starts. This is the best time because by being involved from the start ISs can make sure parents provide information at the appropriate stages and help them follow up queries with the LA and any professionals who are contributing to the assessment. They can attend planning meetings with parents or young people (in some LAs known as the 14 week meeting) where hopefully agreement about what will be in the draft plan will be reached.
Parents should be given information about IS in their area by the LA when they acknowledge the request for assessment so if parents feel they might need help then I would suggest contacting IS straight away.
If a child or young person is transferring from a statement the LA must write to their parents, or the young person themselves if over 16, at least two weeks before to inform them of the date on which the transfer/assessment process will start and at this point should provide them with information about sources of independent support. In some areas, ISs are becoming involved at the time of the statement review that often precedes the start of the transfer process so it would be worth contacting the local service at that stage.
This can be very helpful for parents and young people to understand exactly what’s wanted when they are asked to give their views.
As a general rule, the earlier an IS is involved the more they can help. It’s frustrating for everyone if parents don’t find out about the service until the stage of receiving a draft plan. Having the IS involved early on can assist parents and the LA to arrive at a draft plan that contains what parents and young people would like to see included first time around.
Can I refer myself to the service?
Absolutely, yes. In some areas, LAs do also refer parents to IS directly if they feel that a particular family is struggling but this must be with parents’ consent. Professionals from other agencies, such as Early Years' services or educational settings, can refer to IS on parents’ behalf but again they should discuss this with parents first.
How can I find the Independent Support service in my area?
The Council for Disabled Children has a list of all local services on its website.
All LAs must give details of the local IS service in the Local Offer. IASS will also have contact details for the local service.
Where can I find out more about Independent Support?
The Council for Disabled Children’s website has a great deal of further information including case studies and information on initial evaluations of the service. It’s definitely worth having a look.
How does Independent Support (IS) differ from the Independent Advice and Support Service (IASS)?
This has got a lot of people confused! IASS was formerly known as Parent Partnership. IASS provides impartial, confidential and accessible support at any time for parents of children or young people who have SEND. The service is arranged and funded by LAs but the Code of Practice says that the service must be impartial and provided at arm’s length from the LA and Clinical Commissioning Group.
There is more information about IASS support in the SEN Code of Practice, January 2015, Chapter 2. IS by contrast is provided by private voluntary and community sector organisations who are independent of the local authority with funding provided directly from central government. ISs are there specifically to provide support during the EHC assessment or transfer process. Both services are provided free of charge.
Is this a permanent service?
Independent Support was put in place for eighteen months initially, ending in March 2016. At the moment, we don’t know whether it will be extended beyond that time but early reports suggest that some form of dedicated support for parents and young people going through the EHC process is going to be required for some time to come.
If you feel you need help to understand the EHC process and navigate your way through it please do consider contacting Independent Support. Even if you’re fairly confident, it can only help to have confirmation that you’re on the right track!
Diana Hunt, Amaze Brighton