5 Long Years…
Finally, following 5 long years of asking for help from school, and not knowing what was going wrong for our daughter, we met someone who was an expert in the field of SEND and he recommended a fantastic clinical diagnostic team who would go on to assess our daughter to get to the root of her difficulties; Autistic with a PDA profile, ADHD, anxiety, Sensory Modulation Disorder, Depressive Adjustment Disorder, Alexithymia, Pseudo-hallucinations… The list was endless.
She presented as a bright, articulate and clearly academic individual. But, her anxiety and anger were larger than all of this, and it crippled her so much she ended up out of school not achieving in anything academic at all.
School said she was ‘fine’, NHS doctors couldn’t understand the problems we faced, family abandoned us as they couldn’t see what we could see. We were alone and very frightened for our daughter’s future.
The Real Struggles of EHCPs
You see EHCPs advertised as the “golden ticket”. If only that were true.. The process is long and at times it really feels like you are howling into the void. We had heard of a few families who had reaped fantastic benefits from their child’s EHCP, with the perfect provision in place and a happy relationship between home and school. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the reality for us.
We applied for an EHC needs assessment, and got refused 4 times, each time the panel was instructed to review. We sought the help of a solicitor. We applied for an EHC needs assessment again; it was granted and we were afforded the assessments and the plan itself.
It was shocking. The assessment process was littered with accusational statements about us as parents. Not much was written about our daughter’s diagnoses and difficulties. We were even accused by a number of professionals of ‘making it all up’. What the benefit of doing that would be is still unknown to me!
The original application was put into the LA 65 weeks before the final EHCP was provided to us. Given the lack of assessments and the inflammatory statements from the so-called experts, the EHCP was a mess of dreadfully worded, off-the-shelf text. To pick out a few..
“May benefit from a chew toy”
“Would benefit from a sensory swing”
“Will have access to a ball pit”
Firstly, the provision didn’t relate to any of the outcomes of the assessments. Our daughter didn’t need any of these things. She was a teenager and did not want to be singled out, so having any of these would provide catastrophic outcomes for her socially, in her eyes.
Even if these provisions were suitable for her, the language used was neither quantified nor specified. It was written in such a woolly way that there was absolutely no certainty any of it would we carried out anyway. On top of that, nothing stated even reflected our daughters aspirations or considered what she actually wanted.
We had 2 months from the point of the final EHCP being provided to us to appeal. We grabbed this opportunity with both hands, and filed our appeal to the SEND tribunal via our solicitor.
We then had several months in which to gather our own independent evidence. I hadn’t realised until this point that our daughter’s education was now a legal case.
There are two sides in these appeals – the LA and the family. The LA are fighting to protect their budgets, and attempted to provide evidence why they should NOT suitably educate our daughter in the way the professionals recommend. We, as parents, were fighting for equity for our daughter; an education that is suitable for her way of learning, taking into account her educational needs, health needs, and care needs.
The LA turned up with no evidence and no witnesses. We turned up with a full compliment of expert witnesses. We ensured they were all tribunal trained as you’d be surprised how many of them aren’t. An expert witness who isn’t trained in tribunal is a huge waste of money, a trap that many parents fall into.
The judge adjourned the case, allowing the LA to try again. We, on the other hand, had just spent £8k on that attempt at justice. We would never see that money again.
They LA turned up, lacking in evidence but with an ill-prepared witness panel who did not make a good case for their cheap attempt at a provision. The judge ordered a provision that the independent experts had recommended. The LA had 5 weeks after the decision to arrange that provision.
On the last day of the 5 weeks, the LA hadn’t consulted with a single school; and certainly not the school recommended by the experts. It was shocking! It is paramount they stick to the 5 week deadline, and if they do not then you must go back to your legal representative or advocate.
Our daughter had a mental breakdown; she called herself ‘insignificant and a burden on society’ – she was a teenager. She shouldn’t have been thinking of herself in this way. But this was what the LA had caused.
We knew that this was bigger than finding a school. She needed 24-7 specialist care to keep her safe. We had no support network, no one to rely on and so it was impossible to care for her effectively at home.
Our solicitor prepared an emergency hearing for the High Court, it was heard the day after.
The High Court
The solicitor had prepared what’s called a Pre-Action Protocol letter (sometimes referred to as a pre-action letter or a PAP). He had issued it to the LA stating they had a limited time to sort out their errors and provide our daughter with what she needed. They failed to do this. So the matter was taken to the High Court.
Due to our daughter being a risk to herself, this was no longer about education but about health and care as well.
We won our case, and our daughter was placed in the residential school of our choice (the only suitable therapeutic placement to have already assessed her suitability, and furthermore the only provision she was willing to attend).
The Aftermath and Final Tribunal
The High Court does not have the power to change the EHCP (only the SEND Tribunal have the power) and so the matter was referred back to the tribunal to finalise. This took 6 months, and the LA conceded on the day of the hearing.
Throughout the process we submitted complaints to the NHS and LA for the shambolic experience they put us through. The LA self-referred to the Ombudsman because they were so appalled at their service. The NHS’s complaints procedure wasn’t followed, and just backed up the appalling service we had received that almost led to our daughter’s death.
The complaints process was lengthy, beginning back in 2016 and following through into 2020. We were not content with the outcome. What we wanted was the social worker struck off for her callous attitude towards our case. In the end we had to go through Social Work England to only be told that as the social worker in question had received no recent complaints she will remain in practise.
I think many parents believe it’s an easy thing to take the authority down, but it isn’t. They hide behind phrases such as “in my professional opinion” – which means what exactly? It’s a defence which seemingly has little meaning but also has the power to dismiss us as “none-professionals”.
The Ombudsman’s final statement stated that they found fault by both the Trust and Council in regards to the Child Protection process in the case. They paid us a financial remedy of a measly few hundred pounds which amounted to nothing compared to the huge financial investment we put into fighting for our daughter’s right to a suitable education. To this day we are still horrified by this outcome.
Our biggest advice to those wanted to lodge a complaint is to look at your councils complaint process. It’s never an easy one, but you have to start it off correctly or you set yourself up for failure and disappointment.