'Let our voices be heard' - Parents' urgent plea to fix failing special needs system
PUBLISHED: 19:02 05 March 2019 | UPDATED: 22:02 05 March 2019
Dozens of families across the county have shared their harrowing experiences of seeking SEN provision in Suffolk - as the council comes under fire for failing to take urgent action.
For 10-year-old Mollie Bendall, who lives with autism, every day at school is a struggle.
Despite countless attempts over the course of six years to get her a suitable education, health and care plan (EHCP), Mollie has been denied any proper support at school – leading to a dangerous cocktail of meltdowns, self-harm and isolation.
The resulting stress has left her mother, Claire Scarff, at her wit’s end – and keen to take the issue to tribunal.
Ms Scarff, who is a qualified health and social worker with an extensive knowledge of child care and challenging behaviour, including issues relating to autism, said her daughter’s condition has been entirely neglected.
“I’ve been fighting for my daughter Mollie for over six years and there’s no sign of that help coming any time soon,” she said.
“Just yesterday I had a meeting with Suffolk County Council. They refused to give my daughter an education, health and care plan and the school refuse to put her on the SEN register.
“I’m told my daughter’s needs are met but they have never been assessed.”
The impact has taken its toll on Mollie’s mental health – leaving the 10-year-old with suicidal tendencies.
“She refuses school and has meltdowns before and after because she can’t cope with the work, the sensory, social and communication side of school life,” Ms Scarff said.
“They won’t listen to my daughter and me. She hurts herself and says she doesn’t want to live any more but I’m told that’s not enough to get support.
“All that is in place is my daughter eating lunch in a different room because she can’t cope with the lunch hall. We get no help from Suffolk County Council, mental health providers or the school.
“My child is one of hundreds being failed. There is no regards for her emotional wellbeing when help is refused. She gets told off for not keeping up with work or being able to change fast enough. In short, she is told off for her disability.
“I have just told the school unless they support Mollie now I will need to pull her out. We feel forced out.”
She added that her only support comes from community groups such as Suffolk Parent Carer Network (SPCN) and Parents and Carers Together (PACT) – both of which are run by volunteers.
Concerned parents: ‘Enough is enough’
Ms Scarff’s concerns have been echoed by dozens of families across the county who feel they have been let down by the special needs system, run by Suffolk County Council (SCC) and local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
Following a scathing report from health and education watchdogs, many parents and carers have clubbed together to express their frustration – arguing the system is “not fit for purpose” and “enough is enough”.
Lorraine Ardern, mother to Archie, 14, and Louie, 12, said provision is “horrendous” and her family have to “fight for every single drop of help and support”.
Lyndsay Terry, mother to nine-year-old Bradley, added that she has “had enough” of the system.
“My son is supposed to be on a waiting list for a specialist support centre as he cannot manage mainstream school even though the school are really trying their best for him,” she said.
“He is making no progress in his learning and SCC know this.
“Bradley has been basically left to struggle since he started school and I am concerned about his future.”
What does the council have to say?
When presented with dozens of complaints from concerned parents across the region, Suffolk County Council refused to issue a new statement.
Instead, the council repeated its previous response to a scathing report from health and education watchdogs.
Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said: “The report highlights that there are still major improvements to be made and that we must increase the pace of change.
“The findings of the inspection steer us to how we need to do more to ensure that all Suffolk’s children and young people benefit from a more joined up and consistent system of support that is clearly communicated to them. Many of Suffolk’s services are working well to support the county’s children and young people with SEND, but much more needs to be done to ensure they are able to achieve their full potential regardless of the challenges they may face.”
An ongoing investigation into special needs failures
Today’s developments follow extensive coverage by this newspaper delving into the issue of failing special needs provision in Suffolk.
Back in September 2018, we reported that education chiefs had warned Suffolk would need three or four new special schools in the next two years to cope with soaring demand – as fresh data revealed the need for hundreds of spaces.
In November, we reported that one third of children could not get placements within their own county, with some sent up to 220 miles to schools in Somerset and West Sussex – racking up costs of more than £1,000 per day.
In January, we revealed hundreds of pupils with special needs are waiting too long for appropriate support – with one child forced to wait almost three years for a council care plan.
And last month, we looked into why home schooling is on the rise in Suffolk – with some schools actively encouraging parents to take their children out of the classroom.