The key to improving EHC plans


Education health and care plans for SEND children need reforming not scrapping, say three sector experts.

The Labour Party's general election manifesto for disabled people, called for the "flawed" education, health and care (EHC) plans, which detail the support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) receive, to be scrapped.

EHC plans were introduced in September 2014 through measures in the Children and Families Act 2014.

All children and young people from birth to 25 years old with a diagnosed SEND should receive an EHC plan outlining the type of education, health and social care support they need, what services providers will put in place to meet those needs, and how these will help improve outcomes.

However, Labour claims EHC plans are being used to restrict access to services, and called for them to be replaced with a new system for providing support.

Despite recognising there are significant flaws in how the reforms are being delivered, three children's disability experts outline how they think the current system can be improved.

MORE MONEY AND GUIDANCE

By Christine Lenehan, director, Council for Disabled Children

"EHC plans and the ‘local offer' of available services are the right things to do. It is the system around them that is struggling - as austerity bites, the natural instinct of agencies is to retreat back into the things they have to do.

The reforms are designed to bring people from different agencies together, which is difficult to do.

Some areas are improving: the recent re-inspections of SEND services in Halton and Gateshead councils show they are doing well.

Families want a joined-up professional process - they want a package of support that helps a child be a part of the family.

We've always been clear that these reforms will take at least 10 years to embed because they are so massive.

However, the government should find more money for struggling local authorities because many people are doing their best but are up against it.

The government should also issue a proper template for what a good EHC plan looks like. The EHC guide CDC produced earlier this year has been very popular - we are about to produce another for health and social care professionals - but the sector would benefit from having a more formal template to work with. This could then be recognised by the legal system."

CLEARER ACCOUNTABILITY

By Ian Noon, head of policy and research, National Deaf Children's Society

"For many children with SEND, an EHC plan is an essential document, which should detail exactly what support they need to achieve good outcomes and thrive.

These plans were built to provide a more joined-up approach to how the state supports children with SEND, but it's become clear that, in too many areas, these reforms are not working.

Too many EHC plans are badly written, with too little detail about the support required. As the name suggests, EHC plans should draw from education, health and social care services - but in practice, it can be difficult to get health and social care to contribute.

I regularly talk to specialists like ‘teachers of the deaf' who are tasked with supporting a deaf child, but whose expert advice is being ignored. These plans should be child-centred, but Ofsted also reports that parents and children are often cut out of the process.

The government needs to introduce proper accountability and oversight to how EHC plans are administered.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission now inspect SEND provision in much the same way as they do schools - but this is a new process and early indicators suggest that the inspection reports themselves are often too vague and general to be useful to parents."

BETTER STAFF TRAINING

By Tania Tirraoro, founder of parent-led SEND website, www.specialneedsjungle.com

"The Children and Families Act intended to put parents' opinions and involvement at the centre of the decision-making process. Parents would have the legal right to be listened to from the very start of the child's support journey.

Unfortunately, it hasn't yet turned out like that for the majority of families, but the vision - integrating education, health and social care into one joined-up plan around the child - is still a sound one.

What is needed now is more staff training to get it right for children, young people and their families. A better understanding of the new legal framework needs to go hand in hand with developing a more empathetic, listening way of working.

It means continued structural adjustments to enable flexible partnerships and joint commissioning between the NHS and local authorities. It means offering support to staff who have been tasked with embracing this new culture. It means looking at school funding to ensure sufficient resources and a well-trained learning support staff for a wider range of needs.

Many children are still transferring to the new EHC plans. They need a cohesive system providing the vision of joined-up care, not to be subjected to more ‘good ideas' from politicians."

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