Children and Families Act: Budget cuts will undermine SEN reforms warn charities

By Laura McCardle

| 14 March 2014

Special educational needs (SEN) charities fear cuts to local authority budgets and inadequate guidance for professionals will undermine reforms made under the Children and Families Act.

Education, health and care plans will replace statements of SEN from September

A number of act provisions will take effect in September. They are:

  • The introduction of education, health and care (EHC) plans to co-ordinate support for all children and young people aged up to 25, replacing statements of SEN
  • Personal budgets to help children and young people, and their parents, carry out their EHC plans
  • A new needs-assessment process, managed by local authorities, with statutory timescales to ensure quicker decisions are made on whether support will be provided and what form it is to take
  • Giving children and young people with SEN and their parents greater control over the decisions about the support they receive

The SEN sector has welcomed the reforms as having the potential to improve access to good quality support for children and young people with SEN, but some charities fear cuts to local authority budgets will affect their delivery.

Paul Soames, chief executive of Contact a Family, is among those concerned about the impact of reductions in local government funding.

He said: “Today marks a landmark for how children and young people with SEN are supported in the future.

“However, many families are yet to be persuaded that the battles for support will end.

“Added to this, more cuts in local authority services and welfare changes mean families with disabled children and young people face extremely difficult times ahead.”

Similarly, Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of Ambitious about Autism, said: “The Children and Families Act creates clearer rights for young people with SEN – including those with autism – to continue their education beyond school and get the support they need to achieve a fulfilling adult life.

“This is a welcome step forward and a victory for all the young people and parents who campaigned with us to end the scandal of just one in four young people with autism going on to any education beyond school.

“However, parents of children with autism are already reporting cuts in the essential services they depend on, such as speech and language therapy.”

Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at Mencap, is concerned the draft SEN code of practice, which will be used to deliver provisions in the act, is “by no means” fit for purpose.

He said: “The guidance does not tell professionals what they need to do to support children with a learning disability under the new system and this threatens to undermine the good intentions within the act.

“We need to get this guidance right, and fast, as the legislation must be implemented from September this year.

“With the clock ticking, improvements to the code of practice are urgently needed so that professionals know what is expected of them.”

Simon Parkinson, board member of Every Disabled Child Matters, has similar concerns.

He said: “Many families are yet to be persuaded that the battles for support will end, and there is undoubtedly more work to be done to ensure that the practice guidance contained in the new code of practice is fit for purpose.

“Nevertheless, we can now look forward to finding out how the new system will be translated on the ground and what impact this will have on the lives of those it is meant to support.”

Meanwhile, Christine Lenehan, chief executive of the Council for Disabled Children, said: “The Children and Families Act marks an important step to getting better outcomes for disabled children and young people with SEN.

“We have been pleased to work in partnership with the government to deliver the act, but will be equally pleased to work closely with all partners on the implementation of the act to ensure it delivers in practice.”

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