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Shared learning: when does SEND support become intrusive?

Libby Caulfield

At IMPOWER our projects cover a range of disciplines, including: children’s services, adult social care, health, place and climate change. An important part of what we do is collaboration and – most importantly – shared learning. By working together with colleagues across the portfolio, we can often identify thinking and innovation that can be applied to problem solving in a seemingly unrelated area of service.

Recently, I hosted a shared learning event between my own children’s services team and that of an adult social care colleague. It quickly became clear that at the heart of adult social care is the promotion of independent living. Colleagues described social care practitioners who are highly alert to the point at which planned support might infringe on a person’s privacy, or becomes intrusive. It struck me that this is a conversation almost completely lacking in the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) support system.

Decision making in the SEND system happens early in a child’s life, often at the point when they start school, or transition to a different setting. At this point, the child is incredibly vulnerable, and families instinctively want to obtain as much support for them as possible. This support is also often ‘hard won’ through the current complex, paperwork-heavy system. It is simply human nature, to want to nurture and protect your vulnerable child as they navigate their transition to education.

To best support a child and their family at this often challenging and emotional time, a supportive conversation by a sensitive practitioner is needed; a conversation that takes them on a journey of what that support might look like over time. If the child is allocated a one-to-one adult to support them in class when they are five years old, has the family considered what that would look like when the child is 15, or 18? Will they still want to be spending all their time at school with a one-to-one adult, or will they prefer to have time to be independent, to be able to nurture friendships, to be able to have a romantic relationship when the time comes? Does the family want their child to live independently and work for themselves as an adult if possible? If so, the team around the family needs to consider what the future of this support will look like right from the start of the journey, to enable changes to be made with due diligence and careful planning, to best protect and support the child or young person as they grow and develop.

IMPOWER’s Valuing SEND tool supports practitioners and families to do just this. Valuing SEND is a needs mapping tool which looks at the needs of an individual child and maps them against the support a setting can offer and the confidence of the child’s family in supporting them at home. In addition to mapping the four areas of need set out in the SEND Code of Practice (2014), it also considers an additional area of ‘independence’. This ensures that practitioners can help families to understand what support might look like further down the line so they can make informed decisions about care and how it might change as their child grows up.

At IMPOWER we challenge the sector to design support that is responsive to need, to avoid the ‘one way road’ to escalation of need and support that is so common across the system. This leads to better outcomes for our children and young people with SEND. It also crucially begins to consider children just as we do adults; as whole people who have a right to privacy, independence and choice about the care and support they receive.

Written by

Libby Caulfield

Senior Manager, IMPOWER



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