Health and wellbeing boards 'ignore SEN'

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 27 February 2013

Health and wellbeing boards in local areas testing the government's special educational needs (SEN) reforms are overlooking disabled children and young people, research has revealed.

Deaf children could miss out if SEN is not prioritised in health and wellbeing strategies. Image: NDCS

The study into 31 pathfinder councils involved in piloting the SEN reforms found that eight authorities have not yet produced a local health and wellbeing strategy, despite the fact that health and wellbeing boards assume their statutory functions from April.

Of the 23 health and wellbeing boards that had published a draft or final strategy, the study by consultancy MHP Health Mandate found that nine made no reference to children and young people with SEN or learning disabilities.

The Children and Families Bill, which was published in February, introduces a new requirement for “local authorities and health services to commission education, health and social care services jointly”.

Ben Nunn, who conducted the research for MHP Health Mandate, said the findings suggested children with SEN are at risk of missing out on adequate care in the future.

“If the councils that have been asked to test these reforms aren’t including SEN within their health and wellbeing strategy in the six weeks left before the system becomes live, there’s a danger SEN won’t get the attention it needs to ensure care is properly integrated,” said Nunn.

“If the government’s ambition is to promote better joined-up care between education and health providers, then health and wellbeing boards are the perfect forum for that to be delivered. But instead we’re seeing councils inadequately considering the whole pathway of care for children with SEN.”

The pathfinders were set up in 2011 to explore how a duty for joint commissioning between local authorities and health bodies could be used to improve provision for children and young people with SEN.

The pilots had been scheduled to end in March 2013, but the government extended the projects until September 2014.

Jo Campion, deputy director of policy and campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), said the research suggested that the government should place legal duties on health providers to ensure children’s needs are met.

“This research is another example of services for deaf children not working together,” said Campion. “No action is being taken by the government to prevent the cuts to both health and education services for deaf children, making a bad situation worse.

“We’ve been warning for some time that the proposals these pathfinders are trialling will not solve this problem because there are no new legal duties on health agencies.

“We call on the government to make truly radical reforms by introducing legal duties on health and taking seriously the cuts that are affecting deaf children on a daily basis.”

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