Calls for quicker help for disabled children in Lancashire
Almost one in four funding packages not signed off on time in county
Around three-quarters of the Education, Health and Care Plans approved in Lancashire were processed on time last year, with some children waiting more than five months for adequate support.
The plans allow families to access tailored assistance for children and young people with disabilities and special educational needs, but delays in creating them mean youngsters are struggling to access vital help, disability charity Scope says.
By law, councils have 20 weeks from the date of a request being made to craft a plan.
But Department for Education statistics show just 75 per cent of the EHCPs created in Lancashire last year were processed within that time frame.
The proportion of those plans finalised on time was around the same as in 2019.
The proportion of plans issued within 20 weeks has dropped nationally and is down to 58 per cent from 60 per cent last year.
The figures exclude cases where exceptions to the normal timescale applied – including any impacted by changes to council services in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19 between May 1 and September 25 last year, when the laws were temporarily relaxed.
Classed as legal documents, EHCPs can only be approved where families have already exhausted all support options available in schools and other educational settings and require further help.
Once in place, they allow youngsters to receive funded support tailored to their specific needs, from individual classroom assistance to speech and language therapy.
But Scope’s Louise Rubin said families are struggling to access support, with delays having a “massive impact” on disabled children.
She said: “Parents have told us about the stresses of applying for an EHCP as it can be a confusing and complex process and delays can make this worse.
“While families wait for an EHCP, the child will be missing out on the appropriate education, but also health and social care support.
“Their needs aren’t being met. This can have a negative effect on their development, wellbeing and increase feelings of isolation.
“This stress and pressures affects not only the children but the whole family.”
There is stark variation across local authorities, with just seven councils hitting the 20-week target for all cases in 2020. Delays were most likely to be experienced in Hampshire, where just 1.5 per cent of plans were approved in time.
Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children called that variation “clearly unacceptable” and said services were already strained prior to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
She said an on-going SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) review, expected to be published this summer, should result in more streamlined plans and will lead to more clarity for families in relation to their timeliness and quality.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble from the Local Government Association said the demand for EHC plans was a pressing issue for councils and called on the Government to urgently complete its review and provide local authorities with long-term funding to meet the needs of children with special educational needs.
The figures also show Lancashire council received 924 new requests for EHCPs last year, down from 1,278 in 2019, and approved 1,027 new plans.
In January, more than 430,000 children and young people in England had EHCPs in place, with 8,085 of them in Lancashire.
A Department for Education spokesman said it is reassuring that support via EHCPs has continued throughout the pandemic, adding that it is providing £1.7 billion to help those who have been most impacted by tie out of the classroom, on top of £8 billion in high needs funding.
He added: “We know there is more to do to address the remaining challenges in the system, which is why our ongoing SEND Review is looking at how to make the system more consistent, high-quality and joined-up for every young person it supports.”