By Traci Pope
In this blog post, Traci Pope, who has worked as an Independent Supporter for families and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), discusses a case in which she worked with a young woman, a care leaver, who was struggling to get adequate support in college and to have her voice heard.
This case study suggests how best to support young people with SEND with exercising their right to be heard and participating in co-production of their support plans. It also explores the need to promote awareness of Section 19 principles of the Children and Families Act in educational settings and to identify ways to provide information and advice to young people about their rights and how to make complaints and appeals.
This young person (YP), N, was referred to me through Connexions, as she had been out of education for some time and starting college in a few months. The Connexions worker asked if I would work with N to advise and support her through the needs assessment and Education, Heath, and Care Plan (EHCP) process. She and N had already met with the college to discuss her support needs. The college offered N the opportunity to leave class if she felt anxious and to be in a small class where possible, but said she would need an EHCP if she wanted 1-1 support.
Background to case
N was 18, a looked-after young person (LAC), and had been ‘in the system’ since a child. She had attended more than 15 educational settings and spent long periods out of education.
She said that she ‘had been in therapy since 9 but it was not changing anything or making [me] feel any better’ and that ‘I think my depressive nature is a symptom of something else‘. She experiences herself ‘disconnecting, having absences and different personalities popping up’. The variety of trauma she has experienced has impacted on her sense of security and self-worth, and she feels herself disassociating when stressed. She was in the process of being diagnosed with personality disorder, which can cause a person to struggle to develop peer relationships, be far more likely to become socially isolated, have difficulty following life plans and struggle to succeed at things.
I requested a list of professionals from the Connexions Worker who had been working with N in order to gather some evidence to support the request. I then met with N to get an update about what was happening in college and next steps. She was already concerned about getting the process underway as she felt the initial information about her needs had not been acknowledged at college and she was currently sharing another YP’s support worker and didn’t feel this was working well. She also raised concerns about how she was being treated and that she felt her placement was at risk.
Gathering information for a needs assessment request
N and I began working on the section A (all about me) to prepare for the needs assessment request in which the young person’s voice, views, wishes, and aspirations are recorded. She was given time to take this away and write up her views at her leisure. In the meantime, it was agreed that I would continue with gathering evidence and arrange to see the college.
I contacted the college and was initially sent N’s access arrangements for her exams by the Additional Learning Support (ALS) coordinator (who turned out to be the only member of staff who was cooperative throughout the year). When arranging to come to the college to discuss this, I also received an email from the course leader, asking for a larger meeting to discuss N’s behaviour and asking why N doesn’t have an EHCP. She said that despite some kind of support for dyslexia and anxiety, tutorials and sharing a support worker with other student, there had been some incidents of N being very upset, misunderstandings and difficulties relating to work experience, and that the college were not fully informed of the type of support she needed.
When I arrived, N was not present at the meeting, nor had she been made aware it was going ahead. During the meeting, college expressed concerns over her ability to be on the course, mentioned incidents that had transpired and asked for personal information to be disclosed about her past/background, which I declined to reveal. I questioned why they were unaware of her needs given the fact that information needed had been provided by Connexions to support her transition to college. It was evident that there was a lack of awareness of mental health needs, as the language used to describe both the YP and her behaviour was very negative and the measures in place to manage or support her behaviour were inconsistent and discriminatory. The college repeatedly asked why she didn’t have an EHCP and seemed to have no knowledge about the process of acquiring a plan for a student. They didn’t think they would able to fund in-class support until a plan had been issued.
I explained to the staff they would need to provide evidence that they were unable to meet her needs and also provide evidence of what they had already been doing to support her, as the local authority (LA) would require this information when considering a request for a needs assessment for an EHCP. I also suggested they got an Educational Psychologist (EP) in to assess N, as she had been out of education quite some time.
I met with N after the meeting and she was upset that she had not been informed it was going ahead or given an opportunity to discuss her views of how things had been going. She explained she had not been allowed to have a work experience placement like all the other students in the travel or tourism industry course, but instead was sent downstairs to work in the college café.
The ALS coordinator arranged an EP assessment, which was done in December, and although other professionals from outside college were cooperating and working very well together, this was not the case with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) or the college. CAMHS had been very reluctant to contribute anything about N’s needs or what support they provided, despite her giving consent to share. Apart from many telephones calls and emails requesting evidence from the college since the meeting, only one email from the Student Support Co-ordinator was contributed, giving a couple of paragraphs as evidence of the support being provided.
I was reluctant to submit the needs request without something from the college, especially as EHCPs for young people with mental health needs are difficult to get. I spoke with the LA about this and they were very supportive and said to just send in what we had and they would deal with the college. Finally, N came into my office and we spent the afternoon putting together all the paperwork gathered for the request. Once N read the reports, she felt very emotional about what she had been through, a lot of which she had forgotten. She felt it was important for her to be part of that process, and she was very relieved to see it all go through.
The following week N attended college and once there was asked to come into the office for a risk assessment triggered by the course manager’s concerns about her behaviour. She called me and I explained she had a right be consulted in advance and have a person present during the assessment. It was agreed to hold the meeting in two days’ time, and I accompanied her. At the meeting, the Safeguarding Officer (SO) talked through the triggers to her behaviour, and the behaviour of staff was discussed too. The SO agreed that there were grounds for disability discrimination and that she would support N if she chose to go forward with a complaint. This was the only time N had been given any advice about her rights. SO also suggested N explain to her peers her condition, which N did not feel was appropriate but said that staff should have already received training.
The needs assessment and draft EHCP
Waiting to see if the needs assessment would be agreed by the LA was a very tense time, as N’s placement remained very much at risk and a refusal would have had a significant effect on her continuing in education or training and an impact on her mental health. She felt she should have been given a statement many years earlier and had not been told about her rights at any stage to complain about other issues she had experienced in her years in the system, as she calls it. At this stage N was displaying high levels of distress and anxiety. She felt she was being left to do all the work. It was not until the LA made direct contact with the college for evidence that the college finally responded. The LA agreed to carry out the needs assessment.
The college arranged a TAC (Team Around the Child) meeting for all professionals to discuss the draft EHCP. When the meeting was held, although N attended supported by me, it was not person centred at all and no time was given for a briefing before starting. The EP read through the draft plan quite quickly, and each time we began discussing a certain aspect of the plan we were rushed on to finish. Although two hours had been allocated, it was over in 45 minutes, which was not enough time to discuss everything or for N to process everything that was being said. N requested another meeting with me following this to go through the plan again.
At present N has made it clear she will not be going back to that particular college with her funding and is hoping for somewhere that is more experienced and knowledgeable about mental health needs and more proactive at providing advice about her rights. She also wants to be included in meetings and decision-making processes that affect her, particularly because her past experience has made her think about the way she was vulnerable from the risk of exclusion despite her needs not being met. She is also concerned about the possibility of any changes being made to her EHCP that she does not agree with. However, she is very happy to have her plan and looking forward to her next year of study.
There is a great deal of learning, particularly for schools and colleges, from this case study, including:
- Settings should collaborate at the earliest opportunity with YP and include them in meetings and decision-making processes.
- Professionals involved should make YP aware of and help them understand their rights, and routes for complaints should be simple and followed up.
- Staff in educational settings should have training on mental health needs.
- YP should be given documentation prior to meetings so they can go through it with someone.
The last word goes to N herself:
‘What matters to me is feeling like I am being heard and that the right people are listening. Knowing who to go to if you have a problem. It’s hard to find someone to advocate for you. You don’t really know who to complain to. It’s not easy to know who to go to and also getting the information.
I really wish things had been done sooner. I feel so let down by people and have been for years. I feel like I was set up to fail and I wanted to quit so much but I pushed through it, trying to be strong and get through it by the skin of my teeth.
All those teachers, therapists, social workers over the years, just giving me labels and names. No assessments. I should have had a statement years ago. People need to be more vigilant. I would not be having all these problems. You know, people doing things earlier on for me. Finding out I also had dyspraxia for instance at 18 is ridiculous. I didn’t just catch it, I always had it. Finding out at 18 is late. All the professionals and grown-ups that have been responsible for me, all these people and not one of them said let’s assess her. Just been labelled aggressive and problematic. I feel I am on the right path now but it took a long time.’
About the author:
Traci Pope is an independent advisor on SEN and education. She specialises in Education, Health and Care Plans and has particular interest in mental health and ADHD. She also provides workshops and presentations and is currently working on a series of projects.