Lancashire makes more progress on special needs services for children and the young
Services for children and young people in Lancashire with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have shown “encouraging” signs of improvement since a visit by inspectors just over six months ago.
The county was told in August last year that it had already transformed the provision for families in need of support, almost three years after a blistering report found that parents and carers were left “bewildered” by decisions made about their children, whose needs were not always being met.
However, council and health leaders were also advised in 2020 that they were yet to make sufficient progress in five out of the 12 areas highlighted as being in need of attention.
Now, following a meeting last month with officials from the Department for Education and NHS England, Lancashire has been judged to have taken steps to address each of the concerns set out last summer.
In a letter, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the county has been told that local government and the NHS is taking a more “strategic” and effective approach to the commissioning of services and reducing levels of variation in the offering provided across Lancashire.
The county is also better supporting the transition of young people through healthcare services up to the age of 25 and has introduced more effective diagnostic pathways, while those in charge have a greater understanding of the area.
Lancashire will now be expected to “build on” its progress and specifically tackle remaining areas of inconsistency across the patch, including waiting times for those being assessed for an autism spectrum diagnosis and in the provision of some services such as continence products.
The county should also publish its new “local offer” services directory, which it was acknowledged is now more accessible.
Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver said he was pleased to see all the changes made since an inspection carried out during 2017, which resulted in a report published in January 2018 that he described as ”the most damning about a service that I’d ever seen in my many years in local government”.
“When you’re dealing with children with sometimes profound disabilities, it was upsetting to think that the county council was failing them.
“When it’s so bad, you’re not going to sort it out overnight, but I’d sincerely hope things are now going to move rapidly to significant improvement because we have laid the foundations.
“There are now different attitudes and so we don’t do things to people, we do things with them – all the stuff you need to do when you’re providing services, especially to those vulnerable people who can’t speak for themselves and are relying on relatives and carers to speak on their behalf.
“For example, on respite services, we went out to consultation, asked parents what they wanted, and most people are now very pleased with what we’re doing – we’ve put an extra £1.4m per year into the budget to make sure we can provide proper break and respite facilities,” County Cllr Driver said.
The letter from the Department for Education’s deputy director of SEND improvement and intervention, Fiona Nzegwu, said that Lancashire’s progress had been brought about by “a great deal of commitment and hard work on the part of the local authority, the clinical commissioning groups, families and front-line staff across education, health and social care”.
It added: “I am also aware that local authorities are facing unprecedented pressures arising from the Covid-19 crisis and that these improvements have
been made against an extremely challenging backdrop. I would like to thank you for all that you are doing to support some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society.”
County Hall’s executive director of education and children’s services Edwina Grant said of the assessment: “We are pleased that the Department for Education has recognised the work done by the council and our partners to improve our services for children with special educational needs and disabilities across the local area of Lancashire.
“This reflects the improvement plan we have put in place and is a good reward for the hard work, dedication and commitment of all our partners including parents and carers, and those working in education, health and care services.
“We are committed to providing the best education services to give children and young people in Lancashire a good start in life and this result has given us a firm foundation on which we will build the next stage of the improvements,” Ms. Grant added.