Children with special education needs and disabilities have more say in the support they receive from local authorities, following reforms that come into force this week.
Under the new legislation, which is part of the 2014 Children and Families Act, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and their parents are central to the support offered by their local authorities.
The code of practice for these reforms states authorities must pay attention to the views, wishes and feelings of the child or young person, and their parents.
Other changes include statements of SEN being replaced with Education, Health & Care plans (EHCP) and key agencies linking together to plan services for disabled children and young people. An EHCP can start at birth and up to 25 – supporting young people into further education, employment and independent living.
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, welcomed the reforms, saying they “rightly shine the spotlight on an integrated support plan starting at as young an age as needed”.
“They reinforce the need for the child to be firmly at the centre of a coordinated plan to support their health, education and care,” she said.
The reforms also allow parents to apply for a personal budget, enabling them to directly purchase all or some of the provision set out in their EHC plan and have further control on elements of their support. Councils must also publish a ‘local offer’ of their education, health and care services for children with SEN.
A recent government evaluation of the SEND pathfinders programme, which is on-going, found children and families were experiencing positive outcomes from the changes, finding that: “Young people felt empowered where they had the opportunity to give their opinions and in some cases they, rather than their parents, took the lead in the process.”
Parents were said to be reassured by the plan and had growing confidence in their ability to support their child, however some also expressed anxiety around local service funding cuts. Others reported “a reduction in existing services, causing parents to feel less able to cope”.
The evaluation looked at the experiences of the second cohort of children and families trialling the reforms. In most cases families were assigned key workers, a process deemed effective when the key worker knew the child, the system and built a rapport with families.