Parents of disabled children give cautious welcome to action plan

Parents of disabled children have given a cautious welcome to an action plan which aims to tackle significant weaknesses in how services are provided.

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 29 May, 2019, 12:33
Coun Abtisam Mohamed, cabinet member for education and skills, says she is committed to making things better. Photo by Scott Merrylees

An inspection of how special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms had been introduced in Sheffield found things were not working as well as they could and children and young people’s needs were not being met in the best way possible.

Now, an action plan has been drawn up detailing how improvements will be made and by when.

Parents say many therapy services for SEND children are overstretched and under-resourced.

Organisations including the council, health services, schools and Sheffield Parent Carer Forum worked together on the plan.

Sheffield Council said some of the actions will happen quite quickly but others will take more time to complete.

Sheffield Parent Carer Forum said it was pleased to see that quite a few of the improvements it suggested have been included in the final document.

But it said it had seen many strategies come and go over the years which hadn’t made an impact and warned the “devil was in the detail”.

Parents of disabled children have given a cautious welcome to the action plan

Eva Juusola, of the group, said: “Throughout the action plan, there is now a strong emphasis on working with families to improve services, and on providing them with better information. We welcome these commitments.

“However, for many of the actions, the devil is in the detail. For example, the action plan says that waiting times for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CHAMS) support will be reduced to national waiting time standards.

“But what if waiting times go down because GPs refer fewer children, or because more referrals are rejected, or because children are moved from one waiting list to another?

“We will only know that the figures improve for the right reasons if our children receive the support they need in a timely manner.”

The Forum recently produced a State of Sheffield report and the action plan will use some of this data to measure progress.

Ms Juusola added: “This should help to ensure that the local authority and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) measure success by real, tangible improvements on the ground – not just the fact that an action has been done, or that a box has been ticked.

“However, this only applies to some of the actions in the plan. It is important to bear in mind that the written statement of action only addresses the areas of weakness highlighted by the inspectors.

“However, our State of Sheffield survey found a range of other issues, not mentioned in the inspection report, that also need addressing.

“For example, the inspectors mentioned long waiting times for CAMHS, but there are many other therapy services – like occupational therapy, or speech and language therapy – that are equally overstretched and under-resourced. These other issues should be addressed through the new action plan.

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“It is fair to say that we have seen many SEND strategies come and go over the years, which haven’t made much of a difference on the ground.

“Whilst we acknowledge the impact that austerity has had, it is essential that children, young people and parents are genuinely involved in creating this new strategy from the start, to ensure that it really does have an impact. We hope that this happens, and we are keen to be involved.”

“We’re committed to making things better” says the council

Coun Abtisam Mohamed, cabinet member for education and skills, said it was crucial that SEND services were of the standard children and young people deserved and which met their individual needs.

She said: “The issues raised are not acceptable but I am wholly committed to making things better.

“We will soon be asking people to help us produce a new SEND strategy, which will ensure that the concerns of those directly affected will be heard and prioritised in our plans.

“As the new cabinet member for education and skills, I take these issues very seriously. I have campaigned for many years on some of the issues raised in the report and I will ensure action is taken and that we work hard to make SEND services in Sheffield the best they have been.”

Significant weaknesses were found

The inspection found “areas of significant weakness” which included the lack of a co-produced, coherent vision and strategy for SEND in Sheffield

There needs to be better “communication, clarity and consistency” in the relationship between the leaders, parents, carers, children and young people

A poor strategic oversight of SEND arrangements by the CCG has resulted in “unacceptable waiting times” for access to specialist equipment and appropriate pre- and post-diagnosis support and children and young people’s needs not being met

Weaknesses in commissioning arrangements need to be addressed so there is better consistency in meeting the education, health and care needs of children and young people.

There are issues over the quality and timeliness of Education and Health Care plans and inconsistencies in identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND in mainstream primary and secondary schools.

And weaknesses in effective multi-agency transition arrangements for children and young people with SEND were noted.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, which carried out the inspection, will come to Sheffield within 18 months to see if enough improvement has been made.

The full report is available here:

https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/dam/sheffield/docs/schools-and-childcare/special-educational-needs/Sheffield%20SEND%20wsoa%20updated.pdf