'It's heartbreaking' - Scores of families made to fight to get special support for children
PUBLISHED: 06:52 22 December 2018
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Families have been forced to spend thousands of pounds just to get the special support their child needs.
Figures show Suffolk County Council took scores of parents to Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) tribunals despite losing 90% of cases.
Parents say it caused unnecessary stress, costly legal fees and delays in accessing Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) – a legal document outlining a young person’s special needs, the support they require and outcomes to achieve.
Parents can ask councils to assess whether their child requires an EHCP and should receive a response in 20 weeks. Families can also appeal councils’ decisions to refuse assessments.
Ministry of Justice figures show 235 Suffolk families registered appeals against SCC between 2014-18 with 82 going to tribunal, of which 74 (90%) found in favour of the families.
But despite winning so few cases SCC has increased the number it contested from 11 in 2014/15 to 27 in 2017/18.
One parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said SCC made it “almost impossible” for some families to get vital support.
“You have to fight every step of the way and even when you have plenty of evidence of their need, you still get told ‘no’, which leave you with no choice but start tribunal proceedings,” they added.
“This causes even more distress to your family and almost broke mine. You have to find the money to get legal advice and we had to go without so much to afford it. I know some families whose tribunal cost them over £20,000.”
They said their case was eventually dropped, meaning “all the stress, worry and sleepless nights” were for nothing. “It’s heartbreaking and shouldn’t be such a battle,” they added.
Gordon Jones, who is responsible for education at SCC, acknowledged a “small upward trend” in the number of appeals, but said this was part of a “significant rise” in the number EHCP issued, which reached 4,300 by the end of the period.
Mr Jones also said SCC now lost proportionately fewer appeals.
“SCC works to resolve the concerns of young people and families before an appeal is registered through mediation,” he said. “We review each appeal on a case by case basis to ensure resolutions are reached where the evidence supports this and before a hearing needs to take place.”
SCC increased the number of appeals heard within the 20-week time limit from 18.2% in 2015 to 47.2% in 2017.