Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Karen's campaigning in Cheshire East

SEN Provision for children without a statement

In March 2012 we had a meeting with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to discuss next steps for our son as we had been told about Individual Pupil Funding (IPF) as a stepping stone to a statement. Whilst at the meeting it became apparent that IPF was ending the following April so they suggested that we go for a statement.

You can imagine my surprise then, when in February 2013 a parent posted a letter on our parents/carers forum on Facebook that she had received from Cheshire East informing them that IPF was ending in the April 2013    talk about short notice! I was shocked that the council had waited until February to notify parents when CAMHS obviously knew last year!

I have recently discovered that IPF was a Cheshire East initiative to cut down on the wait for pupils to access funding for support, so for it to have stopped so suddenly is outrageous.

The amount of posts on the forum was phenomenal; I knew I needed to act. So as part of my role as an Ambassador for The National Autistic Society, I contacted our local MP.

Luckily our MP has been very supportive of parents with children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), especially those with Autism. In my letter I included comments from the forum so that he could see what impact the cuts were having on everyone, not just children but also teaching assistants losing their jobs.

He was fully behind our concerns and I received a letter reassuring me that as part of the revised SEN Code of Practice it will have to show how they are going to meet the needs of children who don't require an Education and Health Care Plan.


But following a letter from my son's school, it became apparent that there was a funding issue which also needed to be addressed. The letter explained how the Government state that schools receive on average £10,000 which is made up of basic entitlement and additional pupil funding for children identified as SEN, but in reality the primary school’s allocation is £5,216.55.

Cheshire East is one of the most poorly-funded authorities in the country which means that SEN allocation is much lower than other authorities. I wanted to know why and get more information for parents.

So I got in touch with our MP again with the concerns over the cuts in funding and how it will affect children without a statement. He replied with the following attached reply from our Director of Children, Families and Adults:

“In order to attempt to further mitigate some of the funding pressures upon schools, I have taken the decision to release an additional £2m for SEN from the DSG contingency. Whilst this in itself does not eradicate the current pressures experienced, it does reduce some of the pressures and ensures that schools will have the SEN resources to meet the needs of those pupils with SEN with Statements.”
This was really good news but we were still concerned about the pupils without statements who have SEN, so we were encouraged to receive another letter from our MP. This time he said that he was organising a meeting with the Minister of State for Schools, Cheshire East Council and another MP to discuss the funding issues in Cheshire.

In the meantime I tried to encourage parents to be patient as they were eager to do protests about what was happening. I reassured them that while going down this route may take time, it might have a better outcome. Should this avenue fail, we could then involve media and protests.

I was then invited to attend a meeting with our MP, accompanied by another parent who was also concerned about these issues. He was pleased to inform us that after the meeting with the Minister and others, they had agreed to focus on three main areas which will hopefully help.

These are:

1) Autism school provision  they are now pushing for an answer from the Department for Education on the go-ahead
2) Capital funding for post-16 to be made available
3) Transitional arrangement funding for post-16
We were really pleased about this but there were other issues unresolved, such as job losses and cuts in funding for children with SEN without statements, the lack of information from Cheshire East Council and schools in general and the need to push for a meeting. He was fully behind this and was surprised that Cheshire East Council hadn't been forthcoming in providing information.

On the back of this, I’m now putting in a request for a meeting and listing the issues that he could try and help us with.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Making a difference as a Councillor

It has been over three weeks since I was officially elected as Councillor in South Heaton, in Newcastle. And what an exciting and busy time it’s been over the last few months, with a well-fought election campaign and many hours of pounding the streets and meeting people beforehand to gain the welcomed success achieved on 25 April. Not least grasping the opportunity to raise awareness for The National Autistic Society in personal campaign literature along the way. Every little helps!

It was great to be out and about meeting residents in the ward and feeling able to share my personal story and purpose for wanting to become involved in local politics in the city. As many families and individuals know there have been huge amounts of excellent work undertaken up and down the country by the NAS, other charities and public sector organisations over the years to support those individuals and their families living with autism, but as with all things more can be done to improve things such as levels of awareness, access to services, therapies, pathways to diagnosis, training for staff and real choice, to name but a few. The approach to all of the aforementioned is ever more important in the current economic climate where funding is limited and organisations are feeling the pressure.

Running for Council was a natural step for me personally, and one where I felt I could make my best contribution, having been inspired at the NAS training event in London by speakers, NAS staff and fellow Ambassadors. Being able to make a positive impact and contribution to improve the lives of people and families living with autism was the way I hoped to go forward and so the journey began.

Since being elected I’ve managed to take part in a ‘round the table discussion’ along with others about ‘Making Rights a Reality for Disabled People’ meeting Liam Byrne MP and Anne McGuire MP. It feels rewarding to see that the hard work to gain election success has provided the opportunity to feed into such discussion and perhaps even future policy. It is important to me that the views of real people, tackling and facing issues on a daily basis are shared with those who can make things happen! Even in the smallest steps.

For me this is just the beginning of a two year journey as Councillor (more beyond if I’m re-elected) to progress work towards a better life for all residents in the ward and across the city impacting, challenging and debating where I can across health, social care and education and other services to improve quality and choice. As part of that work remit I intend to keep the vision of individuals and families in mind as I evolve into my new role and take on the great responsibility of serving the public.