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Refusals of support for special needs children on the rise in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 December 2019 | UPDATED: 06:27 28 December 2019

Rising numbers of families are seeking help for children with special needs, but thousands are being denied assistance, a national investigation has found. Pictured, pupils sitting an exam. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Rising numbers of families are seeking help for children with special needs, but thousands are being denied assistance, a national investigation has found. Pictured, pupils sitting an exam. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Rising numbers of families are seeking help for children with special needs, but thousands are being denied assistance, a national investigation has found.

Requests for a child to be assessed for an education, health and care plan (EHCP) rose by more than 10pc in under a year, figures from councils in England have revealed.

EHCPs identify a child's educational, health and social needs, and set out what support the youngster should receive.

And while councils are agreeing to the majority of assessments, the number of refusals has risen.

In Norfolk, while the number of initial requests for plans fell by 10.1pc from 2017/18 to 2018/19, the number which were refused rose by 16.5pc across the same period.

There were 1,190 requests in 2017/18 and 1,070 in 2018/19, with councils agreeing to assess 978 in 2017/18 and 913 in 2018/19.

Charity leaders warned many children were being "unfairly turned down" for EHCPs, leaving families to fight for support.

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While council leaders said they were concerned authorities were at risk of failing to meet their legal duties towards children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send).

Ministers have announced an extra £780 million for Send children next year and a review into how to improve services.

National data obtained by PA through Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to councils show the number of initial requests for plans rose by 10.6pc from 2017/18 and 2018/19 - from 53,307 to 58,950.

There was an 8.5pc increase in the number of initial requests local authorities agreed to assess.

But at the same time, refusals rose by nearly 500 - from 14,610 to 15,097 (up 3.3pc).

The figures are based on data from 107 English authorities, and indicate roughly seven in 10 assessment requests are agreed, and around a quarter are refused.

Judith Blake, chair of the local government association (LGA)'s children and young people board, said: "These findings support our concern that councils are in danger of being unable to meet their statutory duties for children with special educational needs."

A department for education (DfE) spokesman said: "Local authorities must follow the law when making these decisions, and where a request is refused, families have the right to appeal."

They said the review "will look at how we can improve support children and young people with Send currently receive".

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