Campaigners for full funding and support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have hit out at Hackney Council over its recent failings in timely care.
The Town Hall apologised to two parents of disabled children in the wake of a Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) report criticised the “strain and distress” caused by how long they were forced to wait for an education, health and care plan (EHCP).
However, Gillian Doherty, whose experience with the council sparked accusations that it was operating ‘waiting lists’ for children with SEND, called on the Town Hall to appreciate the delays had on her family and others like them.
Doherty (who had previously been named as ‘Mrs B’ in the LGO case), said: “Hackney Council took well over a year to complete an EHCP for my son, a process which by law should take a maximum of 20 weeks.
“This breach of statutory duty delayed his support and has left his school permanently out of pocket since the funding was not back dated.
“Despite unacceptable delays, the final plan was poor and did not specify teaching support or specialist teaching support and only offered a total of eight hours of speech and language therapy for a child that could not speak. It didn’t even include Down syndrome as one of his needs.”
Doherty added that her child is now “thriving with the right support”, but that while she welcomed the Town Hall’s apology, “they need to understand that delays like this are not in anybody’s interests. They damage disabled children’s life chances and undermine inclusive education.”
The LGO report chronicled Doherty’s fears over a lack of supervision that had put her son at risk of choking, as well as a lack of sign language training for staff disadvantaging him.
The parent of one child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), identified by the LGO as Mr X, was forced to wait 69 weeks for a completed education, health and care (EHC) plan, well outside the mandated 20 weeks.
According to the council, Mr X is still waiting for the bulk of the compensation recommended by the LGO, whose report revealed he had to remortgage his property and lost opportunities to work “because of the time and effort he has had to take in ensuring a reluctant council provide appropriately for his son”.
However, Hackney Special Education Crisis (HSEC) have said that the two cases are just “the tip of the iceberg”, pointing to figures showing that Hackney has been failing to meet the 20-week deadline for making up EHCPs almost half the time.
An HSEC spokesperson said said: “While waiting, children are not receiving adequate support in school and they, and their families, suffer a high degree of strain and distress.
“Latest government figures show Hackney Council exceeded the 20-week deadline in 43 per cent of cases. That’s a lot of disabled and vulnerable children going without support to access their education. Parents only apply for the support if they feel their child really needs.”
In the course of the Town Hall apology, Hilary Smith, head of strategy, policy and governance at Hackney Learning Trust, had stated co-production between the council and families can take longer than the stipulated timeframe of 20 weeks.
Smith wrote that in “complex cases”, it is in a child’s interest for the Town Hall to spend more time considering and reviewing any representations made.
However, HSEC hit back at the assertion, pointing out that Doherty’s son has Down syndrome with “clearly assessed needs”.
HSEC added: “While we welcome the council’s apology, their comments suggest they have not learned important lessons about the impact of these delays on our children.
“The council response lacks any real commitment to meeting the timeframe for pupils who need EHCPs. We reject the suggestion that ‘it is in the interests of the child’ for the council to spend more time considering and review ing representations.
“What made this case ‘complex’ was the council’s resistance and reluctance to fund the support this child was clearly assessed as needing.”
HSEC went on to criticise the Town Hall for failing to provide more than 40 families with much-needed funding for short breaks last month.
Responding to questions from the Citizen, Cllr Chris Kennedy (Lab, Hackney Wick), cabinet member for families, early years and play, stood by the reading of the two cases as “complex”, adding that “for a variety of reasons some things did not happen in the timeframe they should, and we’ve apologised to the families involved”.
Cllr Kennedy said: “Our staff work very hard to ensure the right support is in place for young people with SEND, and the wellbeing of young people is at the heart of everything our SEND team does.
“They do this amidst unprecedented workloads, in a sector that is under ever-increasing financial pressure. We continue to lobby government for better funding and recently joined families and campaigners on the SEND Crisis March to highlight how serious the funding situation is nationwide.
“With regard to these specific cases, we believe we followed Department for Education (DfE) guidance. We acknowledge that there is more the council and schools can do to meet the needs of children and young people more quickly, and this is something the council is considering, by lobbying Government for better funding, seeking DfE clarification about statutory processes and reviewing internal processes within the council and schools.
“If any families have specific concerns or queries about assessments they should contact us directly.”