Autism services held back

Children with autism are losing out on services because councils are not fully aware of key guidance and face recruitment problems, a survey has found.

More than 40% of council officials polled, including children’s services directors, and 70% of councillors with children’s services remits were not aware of an “exemplar” chapter on autism in the National Service Framework for Children’s Services – one of few autism-specific government publications.

The chapter outlines a model care pathway for children with autism. Although its implementation is not mandatory, the core NSF contains several standards which apply to autism, which councils and primary care trusts should implement by 2014.

But the survey, carried out by the National Autistic Society for the all-party parliamentary group on autism, found progress on the NSF was “limited” for autism, with funding the biggest constraint.

Multi-agency working was inhibited by factors including the effects on councils of cuts by primary care trusts.

The survey, conducted in April and May, also identified a lack of social workers and key clinical staff including speech and language therapists with experience and training in autism.

Robert Yuille, NAS’s parliamentary officer and the report’s author, said giving children’s services directors responsibility for appointing a named manager for autism would improve the situation. Currently, only adult social care directors have such a responsibility. He added that £1bn a year may be needed to boost services and that the voluntary sector often had to “fill the gap” in specialist autism training for social workers.

Hilary Burgess, senior lecturer in the school for policy studies at Bristol University, said that while some post-qualifying social work programmes focused on autism, many social work degrees included just a “basic level of content” on the subject.

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 Maria Ahmed

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