The duties on local authorities to inform and support families on SEN issues
What is information, advice and support?
Chapter 2 of the SEN and disabilities Code of Practice (CoP) is dedicated to explaining about the information, advice and support which local authorities (LAs) must provide for children/young people and parents, covering SEN and disability, health and social care.
Where can you get it?
The CoP states that information, advice and support should be provided through a dedicated and easily identifiable service. LAs have established information, advice and support services (IASSs), formerly known as parent partnership services, to provide information, advice and support to parents in relation to SEN. IASSs should be impartial, confidential and accessible and have the capacity to handle face-to-face, telephone and electronic enquiries. In addition, many LAs provide or commission information, advice and support services for young people.
How does it help?
Although an LA is obliged to produce a “local offer”, setting out details of the SEN support it provides (see SEN73, Nov/Dec 2104), the CoP also states that LAs must arrange for children/young people with SEN and disabilities for whom they are responsible and their parents, to be provided with information and advice about matters relating to their SEN or disabilities, including matters relating to health and social care (as well as education). It also says they must have regard to the importance of providing children and their parents and young people with the information and support necessary to participate in decisions.
What can it do?
When designing information, advice and support services, LAs should take into account the following principles:
- the information, advice and support should be impartial and provided at arm’s length from the LA and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)
- it should be free, accurate, confidential and in formats which are accessible and responsive to the needs of users
- LAs should review and publish information annually about the effectiveness of the information, advice and support provided, including customer satisfaction
- staff should work in partnership with children, young people, parents, LAs, CCGs and other relevant partners
- the provision of information, advice and support should help to promote independence and self-advocacy for children, young people and parents
- staff should work with their local parent carer forum and other representative user groups (such as Youth Forums) to ensure that the views and experiences of children, young people and parents inform policy and practice.
What does this mean in theory?
The CoP states that the information, advice and support should cover initial concerns or identification of potential SEN and disabilities, through to ongoing support and provision. This should include:
- local policy and practice
- the local offer personalisation and personal budgets
- the law on SEN and disability, health and social care
- advice for families on gathering, understanding and interpreting information and applying it to their own situation
- information on the LA’s processes for resolving disagreements.
What does this mean in practice?
The CoP states that to meet local needs, LAs should consider providing the following forms of support through their IASS(s):
- signposting families to alternative and additional sources of advice, information and support and to additional support services (including voluntary sector) where needed
- individual casework and representation for those who need it, which should include support in attending meetings, contributing to assessments and reviews, and participating in decisions about outcomes
- help when things go wrong, including, supporting families in arranging/attending early disagreement resolution meetings, making them aware of LA services for disagreement resolution, and supporting them in managing mediation, appeals to the First-tier Tribunal (SEND), exclusions and complaints.
Who is it for?
LAs should recognise the different needs of children, young people and parents, while ensuring coordination and consistency in what is offered.
Parents: staff working in IASSs should be trained to support and work in partnership with parents. Staff should be clear about the transfer of some rights and responsibilities to young people, and work sensitively with parents to help them understand their role.
Children: many children will access information, advice and support via their parents. However, some children, especially older children and those in custody, may want to access it separately from their parents, and LAs must ensure this is possible. As a child reaches the end of compulsory school age, some rights to participate in decision-making transfer from the parent to the young person, subject to their capacity to do so, as set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
Young people: young people are entitled to the same quality and level of information, advice and support as parents. Young people may be finding their voice for the first time, so may need support in exercising choice and control over the support they receive. They should be directed to specialist support to help them prepare for employment, independent living (including housing) and participation in society. LAs must provide independent advocacy where necessary for young people undergoing transition assessments (provided certain conditions are met). Where the young person and parents do not agree on an issue, legally, it is the young person’s decision which prevails, subject to their capacity. Where there are disagreements, staff should work impartially and separately with both parents and the young person.
How do people get information about things?
LAs must take steps to make these services known to children, their parents and young people in their area, and to local headteachers, proprietors and principals of schools and post-16 institutions. LAs should involve children, young people and parents in the design or commissioning of services providing information, advice and support in order to ensure they meet local needs. Key-working can also be offered to any family where children and young people have SEN or disabilities, for example if they receive SEN support in schools or nurseries or in preparing for adulthood.
What is “key-working”?
The CoP states that LAs should adopt a “key-working” approach, which provides children, young people and parents with a single point of contact to help ensure the holistic provision and coordination of services and support. Key-working may be provided by statutory services in health, social care and education, or by the voluntary, community, private or independent sectors. It should include some or all of the following:
- emotional and practical support as part of a trusting relationship
- enabling and empowering for decision-making and the use of personal budgets
- coordinating practitioners and services around the child or young person and their family
- being a single point of regular and consistent contact
- facilitating multi-agency meetings
- supporting and facilitating a single planning and joint assessment process
- identifying strengths and needs of family members
- providing information and signposting
- advocating on behalf of the child or family
- facilitating the seamless integration of clinical and social care services with specialist and universal services.
Can I also receive help from elsewhere?
Families may receive help from an independent supporter, provided by private voluntary and community sector organisations, who is independent of the LA. Independent supporters will be recruited locally and should receive accredited training, including legal training, to help any family going through the process of an EHC needs assessment or developing an EHC plan. LAs should work with organisations that are providing independent supporters to ensure there are arrangements agreed locally to offer help from an independent supporter to as many families as possible who require it.
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.