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Parents Face New Obstacle in Fight for SEN Support

View profile for Nathan Davies
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Parents of children with complex needs, by and large, already have great difficulties in obtaining the required level of support, understanding from Local Authority professionals and also funding for a suitable placement that would meet the needs of the child in a holistic context. Parents may be embroiled in long-winded and protracted discussions with the Local Authority regarding what is necessary for the child that can cause not only frustration but a fractured relationship between the parties.

In recent times, a new tactic has been used by Local Authorities when dealing with perceived to be ‘problem parents’; the involvement of Social Services. In practice, this is becoming more commonplace.

The context of their involvement varies but the ramifications are often the same. Their primary role is to assist families where there are fundamental social care issues that need to be addressed so that appropriate services can be delegated. As part of that role, they must of course assess whether there are any concerns regarding the care of the child so as to appropriately discharge their duty of care. However, this duty is often utilised in a heavy-handed and destructive manner.

When a family are struggling to support and provide the required level of care for a child with complex ASD, for example, it is becoming more apparent that Social Care Departments across the country are quick to conclude that it is simply ‘bad parenting’ as opposed to considering the features of the diagnosis. Whilst there are undoubtedly professionals who not only understand, but have a high level of expertise and training in ASD, these are becoming few and far between. This is a very complex developmental disorder and as such, professionals seeking to assist must have the requisite level of expertise otherwise a lack of understanding often leads to criticism of the parents as opposed to identifying ways of alleviating the difficulties encountered in the home environment.

Children and young people with ASD (especially those on the high-functioning end of the spectrum) will often adopt two separate personas; one for school (or public life) and one in the home. Anxiety levels are commonly high, which are furthermore exacerbated in an environment that is not conducive to meeting their needs. For example, a noisy and crowded mainstream classroom would undoubtedly raise the anxiety levels of a child with an array of sensory difficulties which can often cause them to display violent and challenging behaviour within the family home upon their return from school. Whilst many schools will often seem confused by disclosure of this information (as they do not witness this behaviour in school) this will often be interpreted by professionals without an understanding of ASD as parents exaggerating the child’s difficulties.

This could then lead to child protection issues being raised against the family. In practice, invariably there would be no evidence to suggest that this course of action is at all appropriate or reasonable. If however the parents are intent on seeking funding for further support or a specialist ASD placement (via the SEN Tribunal) then this procedure is often used as a means of halting any challenge to the Authority regarding educational issues; a quite shameful tactic. Unfortunately, situations like this are becoming the norm.

As opposed to working collaboratively with the family, many Local Authorities will go on the offensive. Any perceived challenge from parents will be a catalyst for Social Services involvement and a host of issues for them to face, most notably child protection procedures or in extreme situations, the threat of care proceedings.

Without legal support and backing, this process can be a minefield for parents, especially emotionally and procedurally. Without widespread training and expertise being passed onto social work professionals, parents of children with ASD will continue to face criticism or worse when seeking further support for their child. Clearly, this is not conducive to meeting the needs of the child who should be the focal point of any agency involvement; that is something which is often lost in this process. With finances being tightly managed by Authorities now, this tactic in all likelihood will continue to be used against parents desperate to have their child’s needs met.

If you are experiencing difficulties as set out above or otherwise in securing additional support for your child from the Local Authority, then please do not hesitate to contact our specialist education law solicitor team on 02920 291704.