I am cross!!
My nearest and dearest (and not so nearest/dearest!) will attest to the fact that this is not a good state to find me in.
I have been chatting to my friend Mrs Jones. Like most parents, she is lion-hearted when it comes to her children and their needs; her own.. not so much…. but cross her children or deny them their rights and be prepared to unleash a hell-beast…or at the very least a woman not to be taken lightly.
So what is my current vexation? Honestly, it’s more of a case where to start right now…. I could witter on about Brexit or The Donald; I could bemoan the ever-increasing fuel prices, electricity hike and the weather (how terribly British) but right now, it’s a little more ego-centric.
In the words of Catherine Tate’s Nan character (link below just in case you need a quick reference point) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joannie_Taylor “What a fu**in* liberty!!!!” I’m also quite partial to her teenager Lauren Cooper’s “ain’t even bovvered” except right now I am. Very.
Mrs J has been trying to sort out school for her son James since main stream education has been such a spectacular fail, in spite of the school doing their utmost to support him and his parents.
James has been out of full-time education since April last year. He’s a bright boy: capable, intelligent, insightful (as far as teenage boys, especially high functioning autistic ones go) but the intensity of secondary school, the 2000 odd students, the constant moving from class to class for different lessons, the noise of bells ringing, corridor chatter and the hustle and bustle of every day life in a large building are too much, too over-whelming for his sensory processing. The added influx of teenage hormones and puberty have made a difficult transition from primary school to secondary impossible.
James is currently year 9 but in order to reduce his stress levels, anxiety and depression and thereby the impact on his home life, he has only been doing core subjects of English, Maths and Science since last year; and to be honest, even getting him to attend those lessons is more miss than hit. Essentially his current school are baby-sitting him to ensure he maintains some form of eduction in the very loosest of terms.
Of course Mrs Jones is beside herself with worry; What will happen to James in the future? Will he be able to sit GCSE’S and if so, since he has missed so much schooling, how will he catch up to achieve passable results? Will he be able to continue to some form of higher education or vocational course? Whilst Mrs J is under no illusions that exam results are not the be all and end all in life, they do open doors for her son’s future.
Potential college courses, employers etc will need some kind of yard stick to measure against when James seeks independence later in life. For his own self-worth, self-esteem and satisfaction James will need to reach some kind of bench mark, especially with his contemporaries seeking careers, opportunities and embracing whatever life throws at them. James will need to prove his capabilities.
Although his 13-year-old self is quite happy to spend the majority of his time on the X-Box and achieving “Flawless” on Destiny (neither Mrs J or I are quite sure what the means but we know it makes James inordinately happy!!) James will need to exist in a society that is dictated by finances or the lack thereof. Frankly with the current economic state of the UK and its benefits system, who knows whether there will be anything available to support those in need? Not to mention, James should be a valued, contributing member of the work force; he is more than capable, at least academically, of achieving but his needs must be met in a very specific educational environment.
James now has an EHCP – Education and Health Care Plan – https://www.gov.uk/children-with-special-educational-needs/extra-SEN-help but frustratingly, in an already lengthy and drawn out process, Mrs J has reached a stale-mate with the local authority.
Back in September 2016, after assessing information from James’s existing school, James himself, his parents, CAMHs, Family support Team, Social Care and lord knows who else, a dedicated panel called APP (I can’t recall what the initials stand for) met to consider all the relevant details surrounding James education and what best meets his needs.
It was agreed that James needs to be educated in a specialist provision, preferably one that specialises in high functioning autism and social, emotional and behavioral needs. Both Social Care and CAMHs stated that a facility offering a residential setting would be in the best interests of James and his family to provide all parties with some form of consistency, routine and respite.
Whilst neither Mr or Mrs J had specifically entertained the idea of a residential placement, nor was it something they had ever wanted for any of their children (despite growing up with a lust and insatiable appetite for Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St Clare’s tales, boarding school and the likes there of was something of anathema to Mrs J in reality) James struggles with the disruption that comes as part of having a medically complex sibling and no immediate family as a support network in times of difficulty or crisis. Therefore a residential setting would provide consistency and routine, particularly at an already stressful times for James and his wider family.
The local education authority (LEA) advised Mrs J to look at schools of their choice, having agreed that there was nothing within county that could meet James’s needs. Whilst in theory this sounds fantastic, an open invitation to consider whatever was out there, it was actually quite difficult to know where to start. If you type “autism specialist schools in the UK” into google (other search engines are available!) you get more than 895,000 results.
Whilst you can narrow your search criteria discounting schools that focus on traditional autism rather than the more recently labelled “high functioning” (an expression I hate passionately since it does such a disservice to ANYONE on the autistic spectrum for a myriad of reasons) it is still akin to throwing a dart at a map of the UK and hoping it lands somewhere favourable.
Panel did suggest 3 schools to view and paperwork was duly submitted to these establishments by the LEA but very quickly 2 out of the 3 came back to advise they could not meet need.
For obvious reasons, the LEA, CAMHS etc are not allowed to “recommend” schools, although they can give suggestions of where to look and duly did so. Mrs J also consulted the oracle that is Facebook on various autism support sites, special needs etc. After all, real-life experiences of other parents is invaluable.
SENDIASS (http://www.sendiassleicester.org.uk/what-sendiass) suggested a web-site that offers a sort of “Pick ‘n’ Mix” (far less exciting than the sweetie stands in the fondly remembered Woolworths but I digress) option to schooling – type in your child’s needs/issues/support required and up pops a list of potential schools that *may*be suitable. Even so, this illicted over 200 establishments all over the country and with the constraints of time, family life, cost of getting there and physical distance, it was quite impossible to visit all on the list.
The Jones family decided to narrow down the search criteria to schools within a 2 hour distance and based on recommendations from people/parents who had actually utilised the facilities to make the task more manageable. They also discussed them with the assessment officer appointed by county.
After having previously had their fingers burned by a school they had submitted an application to detailing their sons needs, warts and all and upon visiting the Headmaster who had initially welcomed James warmly, promised he could help him achieve his potential and meet his needs, then when the LEA submitted formal paperwork being told no, the Jones’s decided they would only visit schools after paperwork had been sent by the LEA if they felt able to offer a placement, (subject to meeting James in person of course).
Needless to say, this entire process took considerable time but eventually various professionals indicated that subject to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, James would be in placement before Christmas 2016!! However, best laid plans and all that…schools have 15 statutory days to respond to requests and as it happened, all replies exceeded the given time scale.
This period of time coincided with James’s sister having surgery in London and her recovery was delayed by infection and some additional complications so Mrs J spent considerable time away from the family and then trying to get things back on track when they returned home.
By this point, Christmas was fast approaching and once replies had been received from the various schools, it was decided to schedule visits for the first week of January 2017. Things were looking up!
Several visits later, the Jones’s had found 2 possible schools, one of which they felt particularly would be in their son’s best interests and both schools had capacity. The Headmaster of the preferred option came to the house together with an educational psychologist to speak to James and review his needs and offered him a place unconditionally.
James was taken to view both establishments and watching him relax, feel excitement, understanding and a desire to partake was all the affirmation his parents needed to know they had found the appropriate placements. The fact that the LEA had also named these establishments as possibilities felt like a sign and so the Jones’s were sure they were on the home stretch and there was a frisson of excitement and hope that James would be in placement before February half term.
Having previously been told that their case would be taken to an interim panel due to the length of time events had been ongoing, the LEA assessment officer came back to advise that her manager had declined to pursue this with the higher tier and they would have to wait until the February meeting (APP meet once a month) for their case to be considered.
A small set back but not unexpected (everything is about cost saving don’t you know!) the family waited on tenterhooks for the outcome of panel on Monday 6th February …..they waited…and waited….and waited. The assessment officer was great at trying to update even sending the family an e-mail just before she finished work for the day to let them know they had not been forgotten but she had heard nothing back.
Recognising that their son is not the only child with complex needs and that panel would have had many cases aside from their own to consider, the Jones’s remained quietly confident that Tuesday would bring them much-anticipated news. It did; but not the kind that had them doing a fist bump.
In spite of over-whelming support and evidence from the numerous services involved, James’s own opinions, in spite of pursuing some of the school options that panel had suggested, in spite of Mrs J having written a lengthy explanation as to why they had elected for one specific school as their first choice, incredibly, panel deferred their decision and asked that the family go back and look at 3 further schools not previously suggested!!! Furthermore, 2 of these schools have already been approached by the family and advised verbally they were unable to provide the kind of support James requires.
Mrs Jones veritably turned the air blue on hearing this news. It was indeed a good job all the kids were in school or their vocabulary may well have been “enhanced” – although it’s highly doubtful the teachers would have given the children star of the week for learning new and exciting terminology.
The family haven’t been given the courtesy of an explanation as to why their case has been deferred but it doesn’t take a genius to surmise it’s likely related to the costs of the schools involved – they would have been aware of indicative costings when first suggesting 2 of them back in October.
Whilst it is entirely correct and diligent that each authority can justify their expenditure, at what point in the scenario does this go beyond farcical??? What is to prevent panel from deferring the decision-making process again once these schools have been consulted? and potentially ad infinitum thereafter? It’s not so much that the goal posts have been moved, it’s more that the pitch itself has been demolished, bull dozed and the goal posts used to hang out washing.
It must be recognised that merely undertaking the EHCP process is costly to all parties involved – educational psychologists, paediatricians, local authority, any and all parties involved with the family need to contribute, visit the existing school, child and parents. Hours and hours of professionals time.
Whilst parents themselves do not financially contribute, (although indirectly in the form of taxes I suppose!!) the time factor alone is considerable and for working parents may necessitate them taking leave to attend meetings, file paperwork in appropriate time frames – multiple forms/questionnaires, do schools visits etc) and therefore it is in everyone’s interests to expedite the process.
First and foremost however, the needs of the young person missing out on their education must also be taken into account and on behalf of Mrs J I am vexed that panel are failing James. They are failing in their duty of care not only in respect of his educational needs but also his health and well-being and that of the wider family too.
It is fair to say this family are fragile; poised on the edge of exhaustion, stress and the relentless nature of 2 of their children having significant medical, mental health and emotional needs.
Ultimately, if James isn’t supported to achieve the very best of his potential, both academically and personally then the longer term costs to society in terms of benefits, mental health, NHS care generally, possible criminality to fund his lifestyle or because he is unable to control his moods, assaults someone in anger etc (an integral part of James’s education will support him in identifying his triggers and find ways to self-regulate and employ diversion tactics) then I fear the longer term costs could be far more substantial and not necessarily just financially…. 😦
Edvard Munch – The Scream