Nationally local authorities have experienced an increase demand for special educational needs and disability (SEND) services. However, because of the growing pressures on resources and legislative change which has led services to focus on statutory requirements rather than outcomes, a proportion of this demand is avoidable and can be influenced.
The 2014 Children and Families Act required councils to review the way their SEND services were delivered; requiring (amongst other changes) councils to coordinate plans for education, health and social care into a single plan (EHCP). The principles sitting behind this legislation were designed to increase collaboration between agencies, ensure that needs are identified early, to put children and their families at the heart of services and to effectively prepare young people for adulthood and independent life.
Pressures on resources have meant that properly implementing these changes (beyond simply ticking the statutory box) has been challenging; as they require authorities to step back and thoroughly review SEND services. However, our experience is that finding the time to pause and review SEND services can highlight substantial benefits.
iMPOWER have worked with several authorities this year to review SEND which has shown that there is real potential to reduce demand in this area. As part of this work we conducted a series of case reviews which showed that in 35% (or more) of cases interventions could have reduced the level of social care support required. Across our projects, three key themes have emerged for what could have reduced the level of support – these themes reflect the legislation, and give a clear indication of which areas should be focused on to achieve benefits for both authorities and service users:
- Early intervention – ensuring SEND pathways are simple and easy to navigate so that families can access appropriate services without delay to reduce the chances of needs escalating.
- Collaboration and information – collaboration and information sharing between agencies to reduce duplication and to speed up and streamline processes for families. This includes between adults and children’s services to ensure there is transparency around which young people are coming up through the system and working together to help young people develop the skills needed to live independently.
- Taking a holistic view of the child – looking at the child and family as a whole, and not just the disability. This means identifying other underlying issues and confidently referring families to early help / universal services where appropriate.
By stepping back and taking the time to review the way SEND services are delivered and revisiting the principles that sit behind legislative changes – particularly focusing on early intervention, improving collaboration between internal and external partners and placing child and family holistically at the heart of services – authorities could relieve some of the pressure on their SEND services and improve outcomes for children and their families.