A major overhaul of the support available for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), has been welcomed by the South East 7 (SE7) group of councils.
The reforms which will give families greater control and choice over the care their children receive, were set out in the wide-ranging Children and Families Bill, introduced by the Government on Monday.
Many of the reforms, originally outlined in a Green Paper in 2011, were tested and developed by a Pathfinder group made up of a partnership of councils in the south east, following a successful bid led by East Sussex County Council.
The SE7 is a collaboration of councils involving East Sussex County Council, Brighton & Hove City Council, Kent County Council, Hampshire County Council, Medway Council, West Sussex County Council and Surrey County Council. The area serves 1.3 million children including more than 24,000 with special educational needs.
The councils in the SE7 Pathfinder worked closely with Primary Care Trusts, Parent Carer Forums and other agencies to ensure that families are central to the way a child's needs are assessed and to the support they receive.
The Government has acknowledged the role of the local Pathfinders and much of that work has been reflected in the Bill, which includes measures on:
- replacing Statements of Special Educational Needs with a single assessment and single Education, Health and Care Plan, from birth to 25
- offering families personal budgets so that they have more control over the support they need
- improving co-operation between all the services that support children and their families, with local authorities and health authorities working closely together
- ensuring local authorities involve children, young people and parents in reviewing and developing provision for those children with SEND and publish a Local Offer detailing all the help and support that is available.
The SEND reforms in the Bill and Government's praise for the Pathfinders were welcomed by the Leader of East Sussex County Council, Cllr Peter Jones, and the Council's Lead Member for Children's and Adults' Services, Cllr David Elkin.
Cllr Elkin said: “The SE7 Pathfinder has played a key role in shaping these reforms which should significantly improve the quality of life for many young people with special needs and disabilities and their families.
“A single assessment process and care plan and more personalised budgets, combined with the Local Offer we will set out, will ensure that children and their families have more choice and control and are fully involved in decisions made about their care.”
Cllr Jones added that it was another example of how collaboration across the SE7 could provide better outcomes for residents. He said: “The work of the Pathfinder highlights the benefits of the partnerships we have created within the SE7 as well as the leadership we have shown in the SEN field. It is another example of where, by sharing expertise, we can improve the quality of public services in the region as well as making them as effective and efficient as possible.”
The Government said the continuing work of the Pathfinders would be “essential in helping us to make sure we get the regulations right”. It has, therefore, extended funding until September 2014.
It will also offer additional funding to some local Pathfinders to be Champions, to help implement the reforms and support other local authorities to do so. The SE7 Pathfinder has applied to be a Champion and will hear the outcome of its bid later this month.
For more details on the Government's Children and Families Bill visit the Department for Education website.
The policies are those for children who have disabilities, and those with learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties. It applies to children and young people aged up to 25 years. There have been 20 areas in the country where local authorities and their Primary Care Trusts have been developing the trying new approaches to special educational needs and disabilities, and the SE7 is the largest.
East Sussex County Council is one of seven major Councils across the South East to have entered into the formal SE7 collaboration to achieve potentially massive savings while improving the quality of local services.
East Sussex County Council, Brighton & Hove City Council, Hampshire County Council, Kent County Council, Medway Council, Surrey County Council and West Sussex County Council – which between them cover a population of 5.3 million people, including 1.3 million children and young people – are responsible for net budgets worth £3.4 billion per annum.
By working together through joint contracts, sharing information, skills and resources the South East authorities will actively seek opportunities to reduce costs and improve services.
A range of different council services are being examined by the SE7 and East Sussex County Council is leading on reforms to special educational needs.