Mencap has worked hard over the past year, with its sector partners in the Special Educational Consortium and Every Disabled Child Matters, to ensure the legislation is fit for purpose.
But the charity is now calling for greater attention to be given to the Code of Practice which, in its current draft form, could undermine the potential success of the new legislation.
Mencap warns that the time frame for implementing the reforms is also cause for concern, with professionals looking set to get only a few months notice of their new obligations before they are expected to meet them.
Described by the government as one of the biggest changes in special education for three decades, the Act aims to transform the system for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) by placing families at the centre of decision making. It sets out requirements that education, health and care services should work together to provide coordinated support across all areas of a child or young person’s life.
The Act will replace SEN statements with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans, and the system will run from birth to 25, rather than ending when a young person leaves school.
Mencap fought successfully for a number of key amendments to the Act. These include:
- making health bodies responsible for meeting a child or young person’s health needs as assessed in their new EHC Plan
- ensuring that a child or young person’s social care needs are met if they are listed in their EHC plan
- making the Government formally review the appeals/complaints process and look at ways to better integrate this for parents appealing across education, health and social care
- strengthening the ability of young people with a EHC plan to remain in education or training beyond the age of 18 if they wish to do so.
Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at Mencap, says:
Our work doesn’t stop here. After working to make sure the legislation has the potential to improve life outcomes for children and young people with a learning disability, we now need to shift our focus to the quality of the guidance, which is fundamental to making this a reality.
Disappointingly, the Code of Practice is by no means fit for purpose. The guidance does not tell professionals what they need to do in order to support children with a learning disability under the new system and this threatens to undermine the good intentions within the Act. We need to get this guidance right, and fast, as the legislation must be implemented from September this year. With the clock ticking, improvements to the Code of Practice are urgently needed so that professionals know what is expected of them.
For the Act to become a reality on the ground, local areas must now embrace the cultural change that is implicit in these reforms: to place children, young people with a learning disability and their families at the heart of decisions about their education, health and care.
Parent campaigner Jane Raca, whose son James has severe disabilities, adds:
The Children and Families Act should improve life for children with SEN and disabilities, but the biggest problem underlying the failure to provide decent support for them in the past has not gone away. That problem is the lack of resources on the part of local authorities, which is more acute now than ever. The fact that the three departments of health, education and social care must sit down together and agree how to support these vulnerable children is a big step in the right direction. So too is the clear confirmation that the social care in the plans must be provided.
However, until we see how this all works in practice, I worry that councils will still look for ways to cut costs as a priority. It will be crucial to establish a proper appeals process for parents, in case this does happen.
For more information please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 6950 or email@example.com.
Notes to editors
* Children and Families Act: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/childrenandfamilies.html
There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.