Today, nine of the UK’s leading disability charities - including Mencap - have launched the new SENDirect website at the Bett Education Summit in London’s Excel Centre.

SENDirect is the collaboration of the SEND Consortium, who have been working together for two and a half years to create a ‘Trip Advisor’ type website for families trying to access local services for their child with SEND.

Charities are well known for campaigning together for change, but it’s rare for them to join together to develop and deliver services. SENDirect has been developed to revolutionise the way families with disabled children access health, education and social care services in their local authorities. An easier way for families to find vital support for their child is more important than ever. The Children and Families Act changed the way services for children with SEND are commissioned and sold and introduced personal budgets – money allocated by local authorities to carers so they can arrange and pay for essential support services.

Jolanta Lasota, Chair of the SEND Consortium said:

We developed SENDirect in direct response to families telling us that finding vital local services for any child with additional needs is over-complicated, confusing and choice is severely limited. It was clear to us that trying to work individually to solve this problem was counter-productive.

Building SENDirect together is us prioritising the needs of our beneficiaries over any business advantages going it alone might have had for our organisations. Parents don’t want to choose from what 9 organisations have to offer – they want to choose from what the world has to offer- so we’re calling on all other organisations across England to join with us by listing their services on the site.

Sam Bergin-Goncalves, one of 100s of parents involved in designing SENDirect, said:

My dream for my son is for him to have the opportunity to reach his potential, to be as independent as possible and to live a fulfilling life with rich and varied experiences.  That’s what every parent wants for their child whether they have a disability or not.

To make this happen, more choice needs to be available for families like mine, and for those choices to reflect what families actually need.

That’s why I like SENDirect – the team know that the services on the site at the moment don’t reflect everything that parents might want – and they are not trying to patronise us by trying to guess what those things are.  Instead every time a parent searches for something – they record what they were looking for and work to try and find providers who could offer these services and encourage them to join the site.  SENDirect will also tell commissioners what families are saying they need. I know this is the beginning of the journey but I’m confident that this service will be another stepping stone for families like mine towards making our dreams and aspirations become a reality.

The need for SENDirect and its pioneering new approach to the way families find and buy the local services they need is backed by research carried out by the SEND Consortium of over 300 families in December 2014 which revealed that:

  • the vast majority said they had few or no choices when it came to seeking either social (81%), education (75%) or health services (64%), or for their disabled child
  • three quarters of families (75%) said it was either quite or very difficult to find information about what services are available in their area
  • around a third (32%) said they rarely or never found the services they needed.

SENDirect addresses these issues by putting families firmly in control for the first time, enabling them to search for, buy and review existing services and to find the information they need to make the right decision for their child. At the same time SENDirect will help providers promote the services they offer while the invaluable information that SENDirect gathers about what families in individual areas want and need, will help local authorities shape and improve services.

Elizabeth Archer, Project Director for SENDirect, said:

SENDirect offers a genuine solution for families with children who have SEND and who are desperate for more choice and control over the range of services their child accesses. Too many parents we speak to find that currently, the process of finding and buying these services is extremely frustrating. In addition many remain unaware of personal budgets or don’t know how to use them effectively.
We’ve worked with 1000s of families, dozens of service providers and 10 local authorities to develop SENDirect. And we will continue to do so. We want SENDirect to be full of activities, support and services that families love. So we are asking parents and young people to encourage organisations they rate to list their services and make it easier for other families to find out about them. Today is day one for SENDirect and with parents support it can only grow.

We are confident that our new online service will help families, service providers and local authorities across the country to work together in a much more effective way - ensuring families with children who have special educational needs or a disability receive the right services at the right time wherever they live.

To find out more about how SENDirect will make life easier for families with children who have a disability or special educational needs visit www.sendirect.org.uk
 
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Notes for editors

For more information or to speak to a spokesperson about SENDirect please contact press@cafamily.org.ukor call 020 7608 8741/07599930090

SENDirect will be launched at a reception on Wednesday 21 January, between 1630-1830 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, London Docklands, E16 1AL.

To find out more about how SENDirect will make life easier for families with children who have a disability or special educational needs visit www.sendirect.org.uk

The SEND Consortium is made up of the following leading charities: Ambitious about Autism; Contact a Family; Dyslexia Action; Family Fund; I CAN; KIDS; Mencap; National Autistic Society and Scope.

SENDirect has been funded by the Department of Health and the Department for Education and 10 local authorities have worked with the SEND Consortium to pilot the new online service. The local authorities are: Bexley, Cornwall, Coventry; Solihull; Oldham; Gateshead; Leicestershire; Essex; Herefordshire and Telford & Wrekin.