Archive for “January, 2015”

Uncertain future for SEN advice & support

Uncertain future in Wales of objective information, independent advice and impartial support and guidance for children and young people with additional learning needs and disabilities and their families.

SNAP Cymru is the leading provider of education advice services in Wales and holds the Community Legal Services Specialist Quality Mark (Education Advice) together with Investors in People (Bronze) and Investors in Volunteers.  SNAP Cymru has been providing information, advice and support services to families for over 25 years and received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Volunteering Award in 2012.

There is growing concern amongst families, professionals and the Third Sector about the future of support services for families across Wales at a time of significant changes in how children’s needs will be assessed and met in schools and other educational establishments in Wales.

SNAP Cymru Chief Executive, Denise Inger, reports that whilst the changes due in the new education legislation should support equality for all children in Wales, many young people and families will need objective information, independent advice and impartial support and guidance to navigate the revised processes and systems within and between schools, and local authority health, education and social care processes.  Families report that they feel anxious, need to fight through systems to support their children and have little confidence when dealing with professionals.

Denise Inger said

“The link between poverty and additional learning needs is clear; many children and young people experiencing the effects of poverty also have additional learning needs. Parents are often emotionally disabled when trying to deal with issues directly affecting their children and SNAP Cymru has found that parents can also have language or literacy difficulties themselves. It will be these children and young people who will be more disadvantaged from poor access to information for families to request preventative and crisis support services.  Research tells us of the high societal costs of children being out of education; we must support all children to reach their potential.

SNAP, like other third sector providers, are very concerned about continuous cuts in local authority funding and as a consequence of the cuts, that some local authorities are choosing to deliver ‘independent’ advice and support services in house rather than commissioning an external body such as SNAP Cymru. Our experience is that parents do not accept that ‘independent’ advice giving services provided by local authority staff are actually independent. There is a widespread view that an ‘in house’ service cannot be independent in the true sense of the word and is not effective for any party – local authorities, parents or children and young people particularly where there is a disagreement, this being one reason why SNAP Cymru was set up in the 1980’s. Local authority personnel are not in position to challenge the corporate local authority through the legal systems as they will in effect be challenging their employers! The point at issue here is, will parents have the confidence that the legal systems and processes such as school governance, SENTW and the Ombudsman, which were put in place to ensure fairness, be implemented in an objective, fair and unbiased manner?  Will negotiation and mediation to meet children and young people’s needs at the earliest time possible happen?  Or does this mean a backward step to the pre 1981 Education Act which was put in place to address the inequality for children with special needs in education?

The number of families coming to SNAP Cymru with issues about the education provision provided by schools more than quadrupled in the past two years and continues to rise.  SNAP Cymru supports and empowers families to work in partnership with schools to improve provision for children.  Without this independent service there is no one to support parties and help change happen.

Our case records show referrals concerning bullying have risen over 2 years by 150%, referrals around exclusion from school by 176%, whilst referrals around non-attendance and having no school to go to have risen by 236%.  All these issues have a grave impact on educational outcomes and are highly associated with future difficulties, including poverty.  Concerns around discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments have risen by a staggering 333%, whilst issues to do with therapies, health and social services provision have risen by 136%. New referrals from parents remained reasonably static but referrals from multi agency teams rose by 274% and local authority referrals rose by 276%. Referrals directly from individual health professionals rose from 31 to 131 equating to 337% while individual social workers made 91 referrals, an increase of 160%, and other voluntary organisations increased their referrals by 251%. Overall in the past two school years demand for SNAP services rose by 72% with the number and complexity of the issues being presented rising by 156%.  All this at a time when funding was being cut or, at best, frozen.

The White Paper ‘Delivering Learning for All’ did not make clear whether the principle of access to free independent and impartial advice, guidance and support for children and families will be preserved in the current and future educational reform.  There is a genuine problem with in-house support of a member of local authority staff supporting a family to take a SENTW claim against the local authority.   This is highlighted in the report on the Child’s Right to Appeal where it is shown to be not in the best interests of looked after children to have their social worker as their only way to challenge the local authority on issues over education as they both work for the same people. SNAP Cymru has every expectation that the Minister will see this as a necessary detail in the process of legislating but the way independent advice is provided is still a concern.

Some children currently have access to independent advocacy and the Independent Advocate often comes to SNAP Cymru to access free accurate impartial advice and guidance to ensure the best interests of children and young people. Children and young people living with kinship carers or adoptive parents may also require additional support or advocacy. Carers often come to SNAP Cymru to ensure the needs of their foster children are set out in an arena where, as foster carers, they can only offer information and have no right to challenge decisions made by local authorities.  The number of looked after children needing advice and guidance from SNAP Cymru doubled in the school year 2013-2014.

SNAP Cymru has faced its fair share of cuts over the last three years, the same as many other services including local authorities. We are all having to manage an extremely difficult phase of financial hardship. However, SNAP Cymru is extremely concerned about any further reduction in free services for families, particularly at this juncture of legislative change and reform. Pembrokeshire Local Authority has already given notice of termination of service and Carmarthenshire has cut the local service to one day a week which we believe will leave the South West corner of Wales without meaningful independent advice and impartial support and guidance for children and young people with additional learning needs and disabilities and their families. Negotiations are continuing across the rest of Wales we hope local authorities remain supportive of SNAP Cymru’s independent services despite their own financial restrictions.

SNAP Cymru will continue to seek support to be proactive, visual and accessible throughout Wales to work with all partners to achieve positive change and lift the bar for children and young people who experience poverty and struggle to reach their potential in education. SNAP Cymru’s vision is about partnership and equality, working across Wales to share good practice toward achieving fairness for all children, young people and families. SNAP Cymru urge the people of Wales to support free accurate independent information, advice, support and guidance for all children, young people and families in Wales”. Anyone wishing to support SNAP Cymru can  join us on Facebook and twitter.”

For further information:

Chief Executive Director, Denise Inger: denise.inger@snapcymru.org

 

Richard Mylan, parent and patron of SNAP Cymru, says…

When it became apparent that my son was not developing language, was frightened and anxious in new surroundings his mum and I were very concerned. We were emotionally wrecked and didn’t know where to turn. SNAP Cymru helped us from the beginning. They listened and gave advice each step of the way from referral to diagnosis. Most of all they gave us confidence by preparing us for meetings with all the professionals involved. We knew what to ask and when the reports arrived they helped us understand.

Jaco was diagnosed with PDD, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a form of autism. His language development is affected. We worried about his education and we were told by professionals it would be best to educate him in an English medium school because there was a shortage of Welsh speaking therapists. Jaco’s mum and wider family are first language Welsh speakers and SNAP Cymru told us to take further advice and visit both Welsh and English provision and talk to school staff as generally bilingual children may achieve the same educational levels in either language but all children tend to do better in the language of the home. We chose to educate Jaco through the medium of Welsh and he has developed bilingually. This was the right decision for Jaco, he received good services from health therapists and the school has been fantastic.

SNAP Cymru helped get us through those early years, always there for preparation for school reviews and loads of information about other services and parent groups.

I am really worried about further cuts for SNAP they have lost a great deal of funding over the past three years and now Pembrokeshire Local Authority has pulled the plug on funding this could start a domino effect on this vital service which has developed experienced staff and volunteers for over twenty five years.

I know that my son and other children with PDD will require more help as they get older. Dealing with the complexities of comprehensive school systems, social interactions and general transition can overwhelm them. This is true for many children with and without diagnosed disabilities and those with other additional learning needs. I know that even though I am articulate and confident I will still need SNAP Cymru to support us through my son’s transition from primary to secondary next year and later as he becomes a young adult.

There is little access to legal aid for children or families and it is really important that families and young people have access to free independent services. We must all make sure that vulnerable children and families do not lose out more in these political fiscally challenging times.   SNAP Cymru is there to advise and empower and it is empowering to know that SNAP will stay with our family to negotiate and mediate and advise and support and should the situation ever need to be adjudicated through SENTW, SNAP Cymru will still be there supporting right through that most challenging and emotionally draining process to ensure that the needs of the child remain front and centre.

The most important thing for children with additional needs and their families is to get the little problems sorted before they turn into larger ones.  Getting truly independent advice from SNAP Cymru has helped my family both challenge and trust the school and local authority as I have all the information and know that it is both accurate and impartial.  Having this information and support to turn to has enabled us to make our own informed decisions for Jaco’s best interests.  This advice and support should be available for all families at all times whatever their current need.   My experience is that SNAP Cymru will not make a mountain out of things. They deal with a wide range of issues offering simple accurate easy to understand information through to complex case management without families having to worry about the cost of legal representation.  This service should remain free for all children and all families across ALL Wales. I urge all parents to get behind SNAP Cymru and ensure its future in Wales.

Richard Mylan
@RichardMylan

 

Another Successful Round of Golf for SNAP

On the 29th December 2014 members of the local community in Bangor came together  to raise an impressive £170 for SNAP. As with previous years, the event took place at Bangor golf club. The participants were welcomed to fine weather, with an early start of 9am. £170 may not seem a huge amount but as a small, independent charity it makes a real difference to our efforts.

With the help of the weather, bar on one occasion, the competition has taken place every December since 2011 with 25 participating golfers and annual cash prizes, which are sometimes given back. At the end of the day the team of Kevin Jones, David Roberts and Geraint Jones emerged victorious over Kevin Williams, Eurwyn Hughes and Wynn Morris. In singles competition Kevin Jones was the winner with Chris Watt and Hayden Williams 2nd and 3rd respectively.

Kevin Jones was one of the key organisers of the event. Other valued contributors were Trevor Jones; who organised the presentations and Alison and Geraint Jones from the Royal Oak Pub in Rachub. It goes without saying that a welcoming atmosphere, food and a donation was provided by both Alison and Geraint. SNAP Cymru would also like to say a big thank you to Bangor golf club for allowing use of their course and to Joe and Josteyna at the Vic in Bethesda for their donation.

Since 2011 the total amount raised has been £568. Half of the money raised will be used to help the recovery of Eryl Jones and Stephanie Prydderch’s daughter, Seren, from her illness.

As always, we are extremely thankful for all the support received for this event and the hard work of everyone, including golfers, which has made its continuing success possible over the years.