How should professionals work together?

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The new requirement of “working together”  

What is “working together?”

Chapter 3 of the new SEND Code of Practice is entitled: “Working Together Across Education, Health And Care For Joint Outcomes”. Its opening paragraph states: “This chapter explains the duties local authorities and their partner commissioning bodies have in developing joint arrangements for commissioning services to improve outcomes for 0-25 year old children and young people with SEND, including those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.” The idea behind working together is exactly how it seems – that those working in education, health and care should now be working together for the good of children and young person with SEND. The Code also envisages that this includes jointly commissioning local services.

Can working together mean anything else?

Yes, although it is not necessarily defined as such, some people have already interpreted “working together” to also mean that those working in areas of education, health and care should now try to work more with parents of children with SEN and disabilities or the young people themselves. The whole ethos behind the new framework is that a child or young person with SEN (and their family) is now always put at the heart of the process when decisions are being made about what future support should be made for them and how that support is to be delivered.

So what does “working together for joint outcomes mean?

I have previously written about outcomes (SEN77, July/August 2015). There is now more of a focus on ultimately achieving better outcomes for children and young people with SEN. Outcomes are not meant to be viewed in isolation and are supposed to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). This effectively means that everyone now involved with a child or young person with SEN, no matter what their perspective is or what department they are working for, should be aiming for similar targets. Also, any targets that are considered appropriate should be agreed with the parents of children with SEN or the young person themselves.

What does this mean in practice?

In practice, this should now mean better cooperation and integration between education, health and care departments. In fact, there should already be some joined-up thinking as, for a number of years now, local authorities (LAs) have had closer links between their education and care departments. One of the main things from the new SEN framework is to ensure that there is also better cooperation between children and adult services.

Why is this important?

For years, many young adults with SEN have been left without appropriate care and support as they make the transition between child and adult services, particularly in health and care. The Code now says clearly that these departments “must now agree with education departments as to how they will work together to provide personalised and integrated support that delivers positive outcomes for children and young people”. By doing this, it will also hopefully help to improve planning for children and young people with SEN when transitioning from early childhood right through to adult life. The LA and their partners must also cooperate in the provision of adult care and support in promoting an individual’s wellbeing.

Is working together similar to joint commissioning?

Yes, the concepts of “working together” and “joint commissioning” are very similar. For example, the Code states that, amongst other things, any local joint commissioning arrangements must make arrangements for agreeing the education, health and social care provision reasonably required by local children and young people with SEN. This includes things like providing advice and information about what is available locally, how to complain and how to go about resolving disagreements.

So, is ‘working together’ an ongoing theme?

Yes, the Code says that: “the local authority (‘LA’) must review its educational, training and social care provision, consult with a range of partners, including children and young people with SEND and their parents and carers”. It also says that the LA must engage with other partners where appropriate to support these children and young people and their parents in commissioning decisions to give useful insights into how to improve services and outcomes at a strategic level. This is all meant to contribute to future arrangements and the effectiveness of local joint working.

Does this work in practice yet?

This is tricky to answer. The idea behind the SEN framework was to prepare children and young people for adulthood. Most people (both parents and professionals) have been pleased in theory with the idea of everything now being focused more holistically on a child or young person’s needs and the idea of everyone working together towards joint outcomes, which now include health and care as well as educational needs. However, there have already been problems, such as some LAs not complying properly with legal requirements, for example with local offers or timescales for transferring statements to education, health and care plans. Many people are also concerned that the idea of education, health and care departments working together has not yet worked in practice and everyone is still finding their feet.

Do you have any concerns?

My main concern is that we seem to have tried to make massive changes at a time of austerity and funding cuts. It is also quite complicated, as there are still separate sets of regulations and guidance for those working in education, in health and in care; if professionals working in these areas are finding it difficult to know what they should be doing, then what hope is there for parents of children with SEN or even the young people themselves? Some have even said over the past year that it has been like working in chaos and there is now a lot more confusion. Some LAs seems to be managing well but others seem overloaded. I am worried that we may again be facing another fragmented system where it will be like a postcode lottery.

Are we on the right path?

On the whole, I believe that we are moving in the right direction. The concept of “working together” is still a good one and some would even say it is well overdue. We now have more opportunities available to us, like the chance for a more effective and comprehensive assessment approach which takes into account education, health and care needs. We are also now in a digital age, where it is easy to share information widely and quickly through the internet and email, but unless we sort things out soon, we may be short-changing today’s children and young people with SEN and disabilities who should be benefiting from these changes now. However, I know that any changes, and especially big ones, always take time to effect. I remain hopeful that things will sort themselves out in the near future. We may even find ourselves in a better position than we were before. But we have to be pragmatic and all embrace the spirit of “working together”.

Further information

Douglas Silas is the Principal of Douglas Silas Solicitors and runs the website: www.SpecialEducationalNeeds.co.uk. He is also the author of A Guide To The SEND Code of Practice (What You Need To Know), which is available for all eBook readers: www.AGuideToTheSENDCodeOfPractice.co.uk

The advice provided here is of a general nature and Douglas Silas Solicitors cannot be held responsible for any loss caused by reliance placed upon it. Unfortunately, Douglas cannot respond to questions sent to him directly.

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SEN law
Douglas Silas Solicitos

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