Saturday, 15 June 2013

SEN Changes will produce a more integrated service with the Childrens Bill

This week I took part in the Children and Families Bill debate. In my former life as a lawyer I represented dozens of families and local authorities who were grappling with the disjointed and poorly organised system that existed when parents were trying to get a statement of special education needs [SEN] for their child. This would relate to a variety of conditions ranging from Autism, ADHD, and Aspergers. Such a SEN application generally used to be expensive for the state, feature a host of different organisations working in silos, and create upset and strife for parents and local authorities alike. The changes have cross party support and are very welcome. I raised two questions of the Minsiter, Edward Timpson - an MP who really knows his subject.
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)Will the Minister reassure some local authorities that the proposal will still ensure integration between the 1970 legislation, the Children Act 1989 and this Act, and make sure that there is not a silo system that does not have the integrated service that we all so want?
Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich, Conservative)
My hon. Friend touches on the heart of the Bill, which is to tackle the perennial problem of special educational needs, in that education, health and
social care have tended to work in parallel rather than in conjunction with one another. In many of the clauses, both through the general duty to co-operate, the joint commissioning clause, and now the duty on health as well as the duty to consult parents and children themselves, there is already, with the pathfinders, a growing involvement of each of those different agencies in coming together and concentrating on the central and most important issue, which is the child. I hope he will see that the Bill gives local authorities an opportunity to nurture and grow their relationships with health and other agencies, and ensure that as a consequence they are providing better services for children in their local area.
sustainable reform, is not the whole solution. We also need to see—this is happening through the pathfinders and starting to spread outside them as we develop the changes in the system more widely—a recognition that those bodies must play their part at grass-roots level and recalibrate the sorts of relationships that in the past have not been good enough to help deliver the required provision.    
My further comments are set out below.
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
I am not sure whether I need to, but I will make a declaration: I have represented about 100 applicants for statements at special educational needs and disability tribunals, and local authorities still owe me money for some of them from before 2010. The simple question that my constituents in Northumberland would like answered, if that is possible, is this: will these proposals make it easier to gain a statement for those parents who have been trying to do so for so long, given that the process has been so convoluted and difficult over the years, as we have all found?
Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich, Conservative)
The short answer is yes. That is the intention of the Bill. There are a number of reasons for saying that. One of the complaints from parents about the statementing process relates less to the statement itself and more to early identification and the need for much greater effort from different agencies in co-ordinating the assessment and the plan. Everything in the Bill tries to encourage that and, in some circumstances, cajole the different bodies to come together and work with the family, rather than, as we have heard far too often, the
family feeling that they are working in a different environment from those around them. By ensuring that that happens, we will reduce the prospect of conflict, misunderstanding and, therefore, the road to tribunal, which we all want to avoid. That is why we included the mediation process, albeit on a voluntary basis, to give parents and those responsible for providing services every opportunity to work together, co-operate and consult at every stage, but particularly in the early stages, in order to avoid unnecessary discord and damage further down the line.