ESPCF’s meeting with Alison Jeffery, Director of Children’s Services at East Sussex County Council

Thank you to everyone who got in touch to talk to us about the most pressing issues you wanted us to raise with Alison Jeffery at our meeting on 19th January 2022.

Whilst we didn’t have time to cover everything in detail in this meeting, all your comments are still hugely valuable in steering all of our ongoing work – and please do continue to send them in ready for our next meetings.

Parent carer voice

We started by discussing how ISEND works with parent carers, as this impacts all the work we do! I highlighted concerns about whether parent carer voice is valued and utilised as effectively as it needs to be by ISEND. Although we are chipping away at this and it does feel like there are some small steps forward starting to happen, real cultural change is still needed. It was positive to hear that Alison agrees it is important that ISEND works really openly and transparently with parent carers, and has frank and honest conversations with us about difficult subjects, even when there’s disagreement. ESPCF will continue to strive towards this, so we can really unpick where and how things can be done differently and try to influence positive change in some really crucial areas.

Legal duties

We talked about legal duties, particularly around EHCPs as this is obviously a hugely significant issue for lots of families, and we wanted to make sure Alison has an accurate picture of the day-to-day experiences families are facing. This included:

  • EHCP annual reviews, and the unacceptable delays we hear of for some families
  • Growing concerns around non-delivery of EHCPs, where some children and young people are just not actually getting the provision they should be. There is not a robust enough system for families to raise this with the local authority; currently this should be via assessment and planning officers, but we know there are capacity issues there and it can be difficult to get hold of someone
  • Lack of interim provision for children and young people who are unable to attend schools and colleges, such as due to mental ill health and wellbeing, and/or unmet needs, and the seemingly impossible thresholds for accessing support from the local authority during this time. This is something we need to explore further. Alison suggested that the local authority needs to have clearer arrangements for escalating when this situation is happening. There’s not a clear picture of how many children and young people are in this situation, which is an important starting point for addressing it.

It’s clear to me from various conversations with parent carers, schools, and local authority officers/practitioners that somehow the different perspectives around responsibilities between schools/colleges and the local authority require clarification and understanding. For example, the legal duty of the local authority to secure the provision in an EHCP is generally delivered on a day-to-day basis by the school/college; when this goes wrong, there needs to be better processes to get things right. This seems to be increasingly tricky, especially with the rise of academies, and the lessening of how much authority a local authority has over schools. As a forum we need to see how we can try and influence this. Without this shared understanding between schools/settings, services and leaders, it does feel difficult to move forwards. However, there is a risk that the discussion about where responsibilities lie will distract from the real issue of children and young people being without the support they need.

Assessment & planning

We also discussed some of the concerns that had been raised by families about the Assessment and Planning department. It does sound like there are some positive developments in the pipeline here, and Alison has said there will be significant investment coming.

I reiterated that as well as overall capacity issues, there are quality and efficiency issues too around the whole system, so money can’t just be spent on more of the same! Alison explained that part of the conditions of the extra funding is that a board will be set up to oversee the work so it is open to scrutiny and challenge. This will hopefully include a way of auditing the work, looking at case studies and how issues were handled. ESPCF obviously believes that parent carer representation on this board will be imperative.

It’s frustrating not to have had a timely response to the collective parent carer voice formally raised back in November 2021 about assessment and planning concerns, particularly as things will hopefully be moving in the right direction. We are expecting further info in the next couple of days, so please watch this space…

ESPCF are also looking at what else we can do around this, including training for assessment and planning officers and other services.

Mental health

We didn’t get time to go into mental health issues – although Alison did say she thinks we might be nearing a breakthrough for getting CAMHS provision for children who are neurodivergent. We are pulling together as much information as we can about this and will of course share asap when we know what’s going on.

Social care

I’m sorry that we didn’t have time to get to social care and respite issues in this meeting. We only had one hour and it went too quickly. Please know that this will be a priority at our next session and in our ongoing work. In the meantime, we really would benefit from anyone interested in becoming a parent carer rep for this area to get in touch.

Talk to us

Finally, if you have any thoughts on anything mentioned in this round-up, please do let the forum know.

Holly Riley-Saxby
Chair, ESPCF

info@espcf.org.uk
0300 770 1367

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