"Frustration" at pace of Lancashire special needs reforms - but 'better understanding' of local needs

Services for young people with special needs and disabilities will be assessed by inspectors later this year
Services for young people with special needs and disabilities will be assessed by inspectors later this year
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Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Lancashire are “frustrated” that they are yet to see the fruits of a major overhaul of the system on which they rely for help, councillors have heard.

Lancashire’s SEND Partnership – a group comprising the local authority and NHS organisations involved in caring for young people with additional needs – is currently working through a two-year improvement plan following a critical inspection report back in 2017. The county’s special needs services are set to be reinspected later this year.

READ MORE >>> The group making the case for special services in Lancashire

Sam Jones, chair of Lancashire’s Parent Carer Forum, said that the tangible effects of the improvements being made were still filtering through to families.

“Everybody has put massive amounts of work in – but the children who are the service users are not seeing massive changes yet,” she told a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s children’s services scrutiny committee.

“One of the challenges is that, while we’ve got to put all these procedural changes in place, we have [also] got to keep spinning the other plate [for] the young people who are using the services at the moment.

“I think it’s fair that we acknowledge that – because there are lots of needs that are not being met at the moment.”

Hilary Fordham, representing NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the county council area, said that it was difficult to quantify the level of unmet need. However, she pointed to various aspects of the improvement plan which will help close any gaps which currently exist – including the creation of local area partnerships which bring together representatives from statutory services in each locality.

“[The partnerships are] particularly helping with individual cases where there are difficulties with access to services or understanding [a child’s condition],” Ms. Fordham explained.

“They also have a very important role in…feeding information to those of us who commission services as to what the issues are in particular areas and [so help us to address] the needs of the children.”

The meeting heard that a better grasp of local circumstances had allowed the SEND Partnership to identify a particular need for autism spectrum disorder services in Central and West Lancashire and mental health in the North of the county.

Out of the 94 actions on the improvement plan, 18 are complete, with 46 on-going and on track. A further 22 measures have not yet been started – a reduction of nine since the May – but eight actions are delayed and deemed at risk, an increase of seven over the same period.

Completion dates for the various components of the action plan span 2019 and 2020.

Amongst those which have been achieved are improvements to the way education, health and care plans (EHCPs) are drawn up for individual children – with greater input from NHS and social care services – and a more co-ordinated plan with schools to increase the number of young people with SEND who are in education, employment or training as they progress to adulthood.

Some of the measures which are off target include the launch of a new “local offer” and associated website laying out what parents and carers can expect in terms of services for their children and the creation of an electronic case management system to improve the efficiency of the EHCP process.

Committee members were told that some of the actions which are off target involve making improvements to existing services and do not represent a failure to provide those services at all.

The meeting also heard that there had been a significant upturn in the number of parents and carers offering their feedback on special needs services via an online survey, with responses up from 350 to 2,500 over the last twelve months. The survey is to be further promoted via a revamped Parent Carer Forum website from September.

SPECIAL SCHOOL SPENDING

Lancashire commissions a higher number of special school placements for young people with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) problems than the national average, the county council’s children’s services scrutiny committee heard.

The authority also draws upon “significantly more” short-stay alternative provision places than many other parts of the country.

Committee members were told that Lancashire County Council spends around £23m per year on special school places for young people with SEMH issues – £6.6m of which is in the independent sector.

But Ajay Sethi, head of learning and adult skills, said some of that spending could be reviewed and reinvested “into a local led system, looking at better outcomes for children”.

“Persistent, disruptive and withdrawn behaviours do not necessarily mean a child has special educational needs,” Mr. Sethi said.

“Young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. The key thing in mainstream and special school settings is early intervention in terms of providing key support.”