Parents blast ‘disappointing’ communication about review of education needs
Parents of children with special educational needs claim they are in a 'constant battle' for council support and were not properly informed about a watchdog's inspection of the services.
Watchdogs are currently carrying out a review of provision for looking after some of the county's most vulnerable young people - children who rely on support for disabilities or learning needs.
And parents have blasted a lack of information on opportunities to raise serious concerns about provision, with some claiming the council failed to ensure schools notified families of the inspection.
While a county councillor has criticised a lack of information circulated about the process and called on the council to "pull out all the stops" to ensure parents were fully able to participate.
In May 2016, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) announced a new framework for jointly inspecting health and education SEND services.
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In February last year, following a revisit of Suffolk's provision, the county council was told its failure to deliver assessments and plans in a timely manner was a "source of much dissatisfaction".
And Norfolk County Council, which is currently undergoing its first joint inspection, has been criticised for failing to inform parents of how to take part in the consultation, including schools not being given the correct details and early years providers not told what to circulate to families.
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But the council insisted it "widely publicised" inspection events, including a parent forum, and prioritised the "most effective channels" including social media.
Angela Grant-Dean, whose 18-year-old son Raistlin has Downs syndrome, said she received a letter from her son's college with the wrong name on.
She said: "There's been a lot of parents saying the same thing.
"I'm cynical having dealt with the authority - it's a great way to make sure nobody turns up."
And the 58-year-old, from Wymondham, added: "I think if we don't stand up for our young people who is going to? They can't stand up for themselves.
"They need us to advocate for them and make sure they get what they need and what they deserve.
"We have to fight for every bit of support. We have to fight for every little thing every step of the way."
While Tracey, who did not want to give her last name, said she had a "constant battle" with the county council for her daughter to receive support.
She said: "It seemed strange that school's didn't tell us that Ofsted was here. We found out through social media.
"I find that disappointing."
Tracey's daughter needs weekly sessions of speech and language and occupational therapy.
She added: "It's such hard work to get all these things in place. It took me nearly two years and they put every barrier in the way."
And Maxine, who also chose not to give her last name, said: "This inspection was our opportunity to have our views heard and most schools haven't even been told to tell parents that it's happening.
"I don't think schools are particularly encouraged to tell families about it."
She added: "They must be used to doing this - it should be made as easy as possible.
"If they want to hear from us, they need to not put so many obstacles in the way. I just feel like they don't really want to know."
Maxine added: "We don't want to complain for the sake of it. It's not just about the facts and figures - if there's been a six-month delay, how has that affected that child?"
Emma Corlett, Labour county councillor for Town Close, said: "This inspection has been a long time coming - there's no excuse for communication not being good.
"Parents have been persistently telling councillors just how hard it is to get support for children with special educational needs and the impact this has on their lives."
She added: "We should pull out all the stops to ensure that parents and carers across the county have the information that they need so inspectors hear their experience."
John Fisher, cabinet member for children's services, said: "This week's inspection, including a forum specifically for parents with inspectors, has been widely publicised by the council, CCGs and the four largest parent/carer groups for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
"We wrote to all schools and provided a letter to parents sharing the details.
"The event was also highlighted on the special educational needs section of our website and on our social media channels, reaching more than 14,400 people on Facebook alone.
"Our aim was to use the most effective channels to reach parents and carers of children with special educational needs."