Families across Yorkshire have faced lengthy delays over education, health and care plans for vulnerable children. Ruby Kitchen reports.
A boy with autism, out of school for a year. A working mother, who has given up her job so she can be home to take the crisis calls that come every day.
And a family, who managed to secure the school support they need but only after 15 months when ombudsmen intervened.
Their children, with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), have been waiting in “limbo”, they say, as they battle to get care plans in place to support them in school.
Councils face rising demand for these support services. There is no extra money, they warn. But the frustration for families, as they watch their children struggle, is palpable.
“We are setting children up to fail, not just in outcomes but in life chances,” warns mother Rachel Bennet, whose 11-year-old son waited over a year for a care plan. “When things are going wrong, we need clear guidance. The right support has to be in place.”
Described as a passport to accessing extra services, education, health and care (EHC) plans replaced traditional ‘statements’ of special educational needs in 2014. The aim was to bring together all needs under one plan for the three elements, but since that time there has been a steep surge in the number of families seeking support.
Across Yorkshire, in just one year to 2017, the number of applications for new plans rose 22 per cent. Authorities across the region have warned over a service buckling under the strain.
Changes to the Children and Families Act (2014) add to the pressure, as authorities are now responsible for support until a young person is aged 25, but with no extra funding they say.
Late last year, a family from Scarborough was among campaigners at SEND Action group which launched a High Court legal challenge - against the Government’s funding policy rather than local councils.
Kirsty McFinnigan, mother to 14-year-old Benedict, said he has not been to school for two years as the family successfully appealed for a care plan.
His options, over education and future job prospects she argues, are being “decided for him” because of a lack of opportunity to receive an equal education under “unfair” funding.
The Yorkshire Post, raising questions over delays this week, has been approached by a great number of families from across the region.
One mother says she resigned herself to home educating her daughter. Another says she is still waiting for news, after a draft plan was drawn up in 2017.
Emma Baker, with 11-year-old Harry from North Yorkshire, has just been granted an EHCP. But by the time it comes into affect, she says, he will have been out of school for a year. In that time, she says, the only tuition Harry will have received will have been an hour a week that the family has paid for privately.
“I am well aware we are one of thousands of families in this position,” she said simply. “The system is both flawed and seriously underfunded.”
Back in Holme Valley, Mrs Bennet’s 15-year-old son Jamie has autism, ADHD, and complex needs, and has struggled in school since the age of seven. To get an EHCP to formalise his needs took 67 weeks, over 15 months, when the rules state that it should have been completed in 20.
The lengthy delays, says Mrs Bennet, were “traumatic”.
“Jamie wasn’t coping in mainstream schooling, he just wasn’t going into lessons,” she said. “His attainment had gone downhill. He was severely bullied, suicidal. I gave up work, to be there.”
When the care plan finally came, Jamie was able to transfer to a special school, where he is now settled.
“It was such a long, traumatic process,” adds his mother. “Now he can get the support he needs. That is important. And exposing this is important - parents, caring for children with complex needs, haven’t always got the energy to fight.”
Sarah Grant, from Bradford, says she also gave up work to be at home for daughter Eva, aged 12, who was diagnosed with autism in October.
Eva, struggling with anxiety, didn’t go to school for six months. She was refusing food, self harming, she wouldn’t complete school work for fear of getting it wrong.
Her mother moved her to a new school. But even now, she says, she is called to collect her almost every day as Eva reaches crisis, wanting to go home.
The family have been told they have been granted an EHCP, but they have been waiting for 37 weeks so far.
“We are just in limbo,” said Mrs Grant. “We need that support, but the school cannot action it without the plan. I’m scared things will start to go downhill.
“I’ve done everything in my power. I’ve got her back into school, now we need the support to keep her there.”
* All names have been changed to protect the identity of the vulnerable children involved.