Parents to control special educational needs budgets

Some experts have raised concerns over government plans to reform the disability and SEN system for children

Sarah Teather announced government response to SEN green paper (Pic: Richard Gardner, Rex features)
Sarah Teather announced government response to SEN green paper (Pic: Richard Gardner, Rex features)

Parents of children with special educational needs are to be given control over their child’s personal budget in what has been described as the biggest shake-up of the system in 30 years.

Announcing the government’s response to the consultation on the special educational needs (SEN) and disability green paper, children and families minister Sarah Teather, admitted there is still “more to do” to take forward the green paper’s package of reforms.

Giving parents control of personal budgets would enable them to choose which agency provides help and support to their child, she said, preventing families from being passed between agencies and struggling to access support.

Under the reforms – which were first set out in March 2011 – every council in England will be expected to publish details of local support for children with SEN.

Social care, health and education will also be legally obliged to jointly plan and commission services and, from 2014, a new single assessment and an education, health and care plan from birth to 25 will replace current SEN and learning disability statements of need.

But some experts and parents have criticised the government’s plans, warning the new style care plan risks excluding children with social care or health needs and personal budget plans are most likely to benefit wealthy and well-connected families.

The government has established 20 local pathfinders, involving councils and local health partners, to test out the reforms. An interim evaluation will be published by October 2012, with a final report due next year.

Srabani Sen, chief executive of Contact a Family, welcomed proposals to “simplify and streamline” the system but said she worried the new care plan is too narrow.

“We are concerned that the Education, Health and Care Plan will only be available to children who need support in education. This could mean that disabled children whose first need is for social care or health support will miss out,” she said.

Laura Courtney, campaign manager at Every Disabled Child Matters, said: “We don’t understand why the new education, health and care plan is only available for children who have special educational needs. What happens to a child who is diagnosed with a complex health condition at birth and needs support straight away?

“What happens to child who is accessing SEN provision at an inclusive local school but has significant family support needs due to their impairment?”

She continued: “We know Sarah Teather is personally committed to improving the lives of disabled children. We urge her to extend the right to an education, health and care plan to children who have social care or health needs – or to explain to families of children without statements of SEN why they should keep battling for support.”

Social workers have also previously raised concerns about their role in the single assessment process, first announced last year.

Sen added that the green paper’s “laudable” aims have to contend with cuts to welfare and local authority budgets, which will have a “huge impact” on disabled children and families.

The government has established 20 local pathfinders, involving councils and local health partners, to test out the reforms. An interim evaluation will be published by October 2012, with a final report due next year.

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