State of Sheffield report: Many parents with disabled children are struggling to cope

Parents who have children with special needs or disabilities are facing a range of struggles – and their satisfaction with services is worse than five years ago.

By Lucy Ashton
Tuesday, 14th May 2019, 12:18 pm
Parents of disabled children are struggling to cope
Parents of disabled children are struggling to cope

Sheffield Parent Carer Forum surveyed families with children and young people aged up to 25 with special educational needs and/or disabilities.

It asked many of the same questions posed in a previous survey in 2014 so it could assess how parents’ satisfaction had changed.

Its State of Sheffield report says: “We found that on most fronts, things have become worse.

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“More families report that they feel isolated and are struggling to cope. More parents say that they are not getting enough support from social care services.

“Key services for children with SEND are stretched ever more thinly. For some services, as many as 90 per cent of parents are now saying their child is getting “too little” input.

“It is likely that capacity issues in NHS services are impacting on the time it takes to get an assessment – many families had to wait for over a year, and some for two or three years.

“Three quarters of the children in our sample were affected by anxiety and/or depression, yet access to mental health support was reported to be poor. Education, Health and Care plans are not working as intended.”

More than 700 people responded, a significant increase from the 2014 survey, which received 320 responses.

People took an average of 17 minutes to complete the survey and the report says: “Given the pressures described by the respondents, this may reflect their depth of feeling and need to be heard.

“SEND reforms have raised families’ aspirations, but successive cuts to local authority and school budgets alongside increasing demand have made these very hard to achieve.

“We recognise that where the system still works well for families, this is often due to the committed professionals and practitioners who go the extra mile. Their goodwill is not an unlimited resource.”

In 2016, the government introduced SEND inspections to assess how well areas were implementing reforms.

Sheffield was inspected in November 2018, and was told to produce an action plan to address a number of significant weaknesses.

The report adds: “We will work with the local authority and Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group to ensure that the findings from our survey are reflected in this action plan, as well as in Sheffield’s overall SEND strategy.

“There are many areas where relatively inexpensive changes could make a big difference – for example, through improved information and communication, more training for staff and parents, and more effective processes.

“Such changes will only be effective if they are co-produced with children, young people and parents.

“Government funding cuts have caused many of the harmful trends we are now seeing, and long term funding increases are needed to reverse them.

“However, there is much that Sheffield City Council, NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group and providers of education, health and social care services can do to alleviate the issues highlighted in this report.”

The full report can be read here: publications