The sudden and ongoing changes from the pandemic have especially impacted upon the mental health of children and young people with SEND says Sezan Taner.
The results of a recent study by the BBC have shown the devastating impact of the covid-19 pandemic on many disabled people across the UK. Of the 3,351 disabled people questioned, 2,604 said their mental health had worsened and 2,427 said their disability had deteriorated.
These are stark and frightening figures impacting the most vulnerable people in our society.
Unfortunately children with disabilities have also suffered greatly as a result of the pandemic, particularly with regard to accessing medical treatment, vital care, therapies and education.
I have seen the impact of this first hand in my role as a child brain injury solicitor.
Many of my clients with SEN have had to wait several months to receive even a simple email response from the local authority regarding issues with their EHC plans. They have also had to miss school due to head teachers’ varying interpretation of unclear or untimely government guidance to schools during the pandemic, parents’ concerns regarding safety (particularly where their child is categorised as ‘high risk’), and due to other classmates testing positive for covid-19.
Many of my clients receive medical support and therapies at school, which are integral to both their education and wellbeing and are impossible to replicate in the home setting. Therefore they miss out on much of the provision required to keep them healthy and to promote their development when they miss school.
This has also been unimaginably difficult for parents and families who have had to pick up the pieces and manage care and education for their children, some of whom will have very high needs in all areas, alongside managing their own work and family commitments.
In March 2021, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (‘APPG’) on SEND published a report titled, “Forgotten. Left behind. Overlooked”, outlining the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on children with SEN in 2020.
The report included a number of findings, including:
- The Government guidance for special schools was frequently published later than the same for mainstream schools, meaning many were left feeling like an “afterthought”. In addition, special schools were given less time to plan and prepare for how they would look after their staff and pupils.
- The Coronavirus Act varied the duties imposed on local authorities and schools to meet the needs of children with SEND. Now they must simply use ‘reasonable endeavours’ to ensure a child’s SEN are met. This has left too much room for interpretation, which in all cases I have experienced have not been in the child’s favour.
- In some instances, young people with SEN were prevented from attending school due to risk assessments undertaken by the school without the input of families or the young people themselves.
- There have been delays in assessing for and implementing EHC plans, especially impacting upon children or young people transitioning between education settings (e.g. primary to secondary school).
The report also highlighted that the sudden and ongoing changes have especially impacted upon the mental health of children and young people with SEND.
In the BBC’s report, they gave an example of Josselin, a 14 year old girl who has hearing loss, visual impairment, mobility and communication difficulties and is tube-fed. Josselin very sadly suffered a mental health deterioration as a result of the sudden halt to her vital therapies in March 2020, meaning that she has required additional mental health treatment and support.
In the video clip in the same article, Leah, aged 18, bravely opens up about how she became suicidal during the pandemic. Leah has autism and explains, “Routine is what my life is built off. Little disruptions to that routine means it all crashed down.”
The APPG conclude in their report, “The Government and Department for Education did not do enough to support children and young people with SEND during Covid-19. Our most vulnerable children were failed and schools and families were left to pick up the pieces.”
In order to rectify the harm done, the APPG has made a number of recommendations to better support children and young people with SEN as the pandemic continues, including that more funding is made available to support children and young people with SEND with recovery from the impact of the pandemic.
Many families are now also concerned that their children, whilst being most at risk if they were to contract covid-19, have not been made a priority for receiving the vaccine, particularly now ‘normality’ is due to return as of 19 July.
Reparations must be made now for the harm that has been done to the most vulnerable in our society and they must be protected for this next chapter of the pandemic.