Ask the Experts: Spur on staff to meet SEN reforms

Derren Hayes
Monday, June 23, 2014

Our expert panel offers advice on SEN and disability reforms, nursery transition, tackling sexual exploitation and examining gender roles.

Question: There seems no way we can meet the deadline for the special educational needs and disability reforms in the Children and Families Act by this September. What do we do?

Peter Lewis: If you cannot do it all then prioritise. Break it down into manageable tasks and assign a lead to each one. Some like education, health and care plans are "mission critical". Personal Budgets (as Direct Payments) must happen, but won't be universal by September in most local authorities.

Other key areas include the local offer, communication and engagement - especially work with parents and carers - and joint commissioning. All of these will draw on what you have been doing for some time - so it is not necessarily a desperate situation. You do need plans to show the way forward and each lead will be able to produce one.

As for other issues such as IT and governance, human resources and changes to contracts, workforce planning and finance, pull together what you have done already but accept these will need more work.

This is a sea change in what we do for our children. Do not despair. Instead show the kind of leadership that will spur it on.

Peter Lewis is a freelance providing interim local authority children's services leadership, and a former DCS in Haringey

Question: How can I best support children's transition from nursery to school?

June O'Sullivan: Have a conversation with children about going to school then introduce school routines such as queuing for lunch, lining up in the playground and changing for PE. Get children used to the language of school and school rules.

Try to develop a programme of shared visits with local primaries. If visits are impossible then call or chat to reception teachers about what it would be useful for children to know and be able to do when they first start school such as writing their names or putting on coats. Take children to school concert dress rehearsals, summer fairs and other events.

Local collaboratives made up of preschools and primaries are a great resource. These provide shared training, visits, and do joint work to prepare children for the move to school. These are also a useful vehicle for local authorities to share their data about areas for improvement so schools and nurseries can work together to address these issues.

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of the childcare charity and social enterprise, the London Early Years Foundation

Question: I'm working with a young woman who has been spending time with some older men who are known gang members and drug dealers. She has been having sex with one of them. She says she doesn't want to but is scared to say no. How can I help her?

Jeanie Lynch: A recent report by the children's commissioner for England on the issue of gang-related sexual exploitation of young people found it to be a much wider issue than previously thought. It revealed high levels of sexual violence and fear with much confusion among young people as to what constituted consent.

Some safety awareness work may help this young woman understand the relationship she describes is not a consensual one. She may feel part of this group but the reality is she isn't in a healthy or safe place. Find out if there is a child sexual exploitation service in your area that can help to support both you and her.

This situation needs a multi-agency approach, involving the police, health and social care colleagues. The chances are that others are at risk too.

Jeanie Lynch works for Barnardo's and has 25 years' experience of working with vulnerable children and families

Question: Many of our youth group members are Nigerian girls and boys and there has been much talk about the kidnapped girls in their country of origin. However, there is a strong divide in male and female opinion. Most of the boys seem to be fairly okay with the idea and this has, not surprisingly, antagonised the girls. How do I handle this?

Tracie Trimmer-Platman: This an opportunity for some effective youth work. Following the Bring Back Our Girls campaign is a good way to keep abreast of the latest developments and prompt debate. Encourage the group to get together and learn more about the situation. The key message has to be that this is an act of terrorism and oppression.

This is also an opportunity to do some work around gender roles and expectations. I recommend a rather old DVD called Raising Cain - Exploring the Inner Lives of American Boys by Michael Thompson, which features some interesting ideas about how we encourage boys to be macho and different from girls. It is very easy to watch but makes some profound observations.

Tracie Trimmer-Platman is senior lecturer in youth and community work at the University of East London

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