Parents call for independent audit of council's SEND services
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A group of Suffolk parents and professionals has called for an independent legal audit of Suffolk County Council's special educational needs (SEND) process.
The Campaign for Change has written to leader of the council, Matthew Hicks, calling for immediate and decisive action to deal with what it called "failing systems".
A spokesman for the Campaign for Change (Suffolk SEND) said: "We have written again to councillor Hicks as we do not believe that he has been given the full picture of Suffolk's SEND crisis by his council officers.
"Additional investment alone is not going to resolve this crisis, there needs to be immediate, firm and decisive action by Suffolk County Council's elected leaders. Council officers are engaged in a spiralling process of cost saving through ever desperate attempts to avoid their statutory duties.
"Today we are calling for an independent legal audit of Suffolk County Council's Special Educational Needs and Disabilities processes, staff training and cases.
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"This is the only way to reset Suffolk County Council's failing systems.
"Every day that this is not addressed some of the most vulnerable children and families in Suffolk continue to suffer."
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Charlene's family have had a number of issues with SEND provision which mean her son has been out of school for 16 months.
Charlene’s 10-year-old son has autism spectrum disorder, Tourette's separation anxiety, generalised anxiety and hypermobility.
“In December 2019 he began refusing school and would try to make himself sick to avoid going due to his anxiety,” she said.
“By February 2020 he stopped attending school, the school were brilliant in trying various different things to get him back but unfortunately were they were all unsuccessful.
“We approached the Suffolk County Council to begin the Education and Health Care Plan process. However, they refused to assess and we never received any feedback as to why this was.
“We advised them of their duty under Section 19 (Education Act) to which the response we were told was 'it’s the school's responsibility'.
“The school had already said they don’t know what else they could do to try and help and were also chasing the council for help, to which they received very little communication.
“It took a further four weeks of the school and us chasing the council to initiate another Education and Health Care Plan assessment, which again was refused. We were told it was due to insufficient evidence even though we had submitted 22 documents from various professionals!
“We were also advised that we had to have the County Inclusion Support Service involved, however, they refused the application for support from the school.
“We contacted the local MP for support who also contacted the council with no response. We then logged an official complaint and didn’t received a response until a month after their own deadline. The response to the complaint was poor and did not answer any of the questions we posed.
“Over the past 16 months my son has received no education despite us chasing Suffolk County Council with countless emails which went ignored.
“They apologised for the poor communication and assured us that it would improve.
“We have requested a timescale in several emails as to when actions will be completed but they have ignored this request every time without even acknowledging it.
“At the moment it doesn’t even look like my son will be starting education in September of this year.”
Suffolk County Council said it would be responding to the letter in due course.
Responding to previous letters from the group, Mr Hicks said: "On behalf of all organisations and community partners involved in delivering the services, we share your demonstrable commitment towards continuing to evolve and improve the SEND offering available in Suffolk.
"Enhancing this provision is one of Suffolk County Council’s highest priorities.
"Nearly 18,000 young people are supported in some way through local SEND services. We are working very hard with our partners in Health and in education settings to improve the SEND experience for children and families and we appreciate that we are not there yet.
"We want to support every young person with the level of tailored personal service they require, and we understand that any delay or waiting time can be frustrating to that young person and their family.
"Suffolk remains a relatively low-funded authority, receiving less money per head than a number of our geographical neighbours.
"We continue to campaign tirelessly on this issue and thanks to these efforts, the gap is beginning to narrow.
"To make the most of the finances we have at our disposal, we have revised the high needs funding system so that funding follows the child through their education, rather than being dependent on what provision the child goes to.
"We have also re-organised and broadened our Specialist Education Service to be much more responsive to schools and other education settings we work in partnership with."