Children and young people with Send – Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – in Bristol, are ‘very high’ on the list of priorities and services at Bristol City Council, according a response given to a local councillor.
Green Party councillor for Redland, Fi Hance, questioned the council about what information and support was available for Bristol children and young people with Send.
In a post on Bristol Send Justice, Fi shared the question she’d asked the council along with the response given. She asked if children with Send were being prioritised in any way, stating she was ‘acutely aware’ of the ‘enormous stresses’ parents and carers have be under in recent weeks. She said: ‘There wasn’t a huge amount of practical support on show to be honest’.
The council’s officer response said: ‘During the COVID-19 period the specialist services have continued to work with educational settings, families and schools. Some of this work has been in the form of generic guidance and some has been in the form of bespoke work with families and educational settings. Children and young people with SEND have been very high on our list of priorities and services have been flexible and adaptable to new ways of working in addition to looking after their own families and ensuring that their usual work for children and families continues to be undertaken where ever possible.
‘Schools have been given advice and updates on their responsibilities in relation to the SEND code of practice and the central teams have been liaising closely with the DFE to ensure that this advice is understood and followed. Virtual meetings have been organised with Head teachers and the head teachers of specialist schools to raise queries and respond to changing legislation. Information packs have been prepared about transition back into school and bereavement from settings and parents, and webinars have been organised.
‘We appreciate the complexities for a child or young person, their families and school, and are working to ensure that every child or young person with an EHCP has an up to date Risk Assessment and reviewing their return to school options as well as reviewing the provision documented in their statutory EHC plan and through working with families, put in place support so that access to education is possible. As a local authority we will also be contacting SENCOs and young people/ families to ensure these documents have been completed and to offer support in these two endeavours should they need it. Many families of children and young people with SEND and an EHCP will have been contacted by different officers including social workers, the transport team, education welfare officers, educational psychologists, the SEN assessment and Inclusion team, specialist teachers of the deaf, visually impaired and autistic children have also been in contact with parents.’
However, the answer doesn’t tally with parents’ and carers’ experiences, with some openly criticising senior management at the council on the Bristol Send Justice’s Facebook page. One reply in early in the week slammed the council for a lack of communication considering the legal changes brought in by government covering Education Health and Care Plans.
One parent wrote: ‘I’ve heard nothing from my LA, luckily I’ve got a great school and sendco who have been in constant communication, but I know not everyone is so lucky.’
Another said they were starting the council complaints process and a third said: ‘I would have expected an immediate email to all families with EHCPs from leadership at the LA to reassure them, let them know their rights and options with regular weekly updates.’
Bristol Send Justice are currently looking for parents and carers to feedback about the experiences they have had during lockdown for children and young people with EHCPs with Bristol City Council.
A spokesperson for the group said: “When it comes to Send, every family’s experiences are very different because of the different education settings, stages, provision and quality of EHCPs. Whilst we’ve heard that some families are happy with their experiences of education during lockdown, many more are really struggling and falling through the gaps. These are the gaps we need to identify and repair.”
A recent survey from Bristol Parent Carer Forum of a small sample of parents found that 46 per cent were not happy for their child or young person to return to school now they were opening to some age groups and 77 per cent had ‘anxieties’ surrounding this.
The group said that parents were asking for ‘more transparency’ and to work with them as partners in planning how to transition back to school in the best way.
During lockdown, Independent Send charity SOS! SEN has been running a series of webinars to inform parents about their legal rights concerning coronavirus impacts on EHCP provision.
This week, SEN Legal & 3PB Barristers teamed up to provide a day-long free parent Sen conference online. Topics covered included coronavirus and EHCPs, exclusions, Extended Day and Waking Day provision, Education Other Than At School, digital hearings and EHCP plans and appeals, showing that Send issues are still of great concern nationally.
A new report out this week from Sibs, a charity which supports siblings who have a brother or sister with a disability, Send or long-term health condition looked at the impact lockdown had been having on families. The report is the results of a survey undertaken with parents in May 2020, with 876 parent responses.
It found that 75 per cent of siblings of disabled children under the age of 18 during lockdown had worsened, with one in three siblings feeling isolated and missing support from families and friends. A 50 per cent of them had to provide more care for their brother or sister.
Chief Executive at Sibs, Clare Kassa said of the report: “We were hearing from siblings and their families about the enormous pressure they were facing during lockdown. These results show the huge impact the current situation is having on young siblings. Many are providing care and support, others are navigating challenging situations at home and some are being hurt by their brothers and sisters too. Siblings as young as 7 are having to home school themselves because parents are having to spend their time meeting the complex needs of their disabled child, often without any external support. We want the important role that siblings play, especially during the Covid-19 crisis, to be recognised and to ensure that siblings receive the mental health support they need in the months and years ahead.”
The national Sibs report tallies with the experience of parent carers commenting on Bristol peer support Facebook pages. According to Sibs, parent told them they needed more support from school for their sibling child as well as more input. One parent said ‘The school should have contacted her as a young carer. Phone calls would have been good’.
Another parent told sibs: “An acknowledgement from schools that where there is a child with a disability in the house that getting schoolwork done might be harder and an acceptance of
other work that the family can attempt together with graduated approaches to the work. That’s doable but teaching 3 kids doing 3 different topics at 3 different levels from 3 different schools isn’t”
Sibs said in their report that the ‘safeguarding of siblings’ was an action that needed to be ‘taken seriously’ by local authorities. The current crisis has exposed siblings to ‘increased violence and risk’. They also said that schools need to identify pupils who have a disabled brother or sister, not just because they are a young carer, but because they are part of a ‘wider context of vulnerability’. They state ‘many siblings will need additional pastoral support and/or academic support when they return to the school environment’.