As well as not attending school, many disabled children and young people have suddenly stopped receiving other types of support which they and their family rely on. Weekly meet-ups, family support groups and one-to-one support have all had to stop because of coronavirus. However, some organisations are trying to bridge the gap and maintain consistency and positive connections amongst families. Here, Rebecca Liddiard, Head of Sense Specialist Services for Children and Young People tells us how Sense are still trying to provide vital services for the children and young people they support.
The unprecedented and rapidly changing nature of the Covid-19 crisis has brought challenges for everyone. We are all having to adapt to a new way of life and a new way of maintaining connections with others. For children and young people who are deafblind or those with complex disabilities, and their families, additional challenges are being faced. Many families are self-isolating and shielding their loved ones to try to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Children and young people are facing a situation where their usual routine, environment and opportunities have changed or stopped almost overnight. There was little time to prepare for this. There was no time for effective preparation or transition from a school environment to home-schooling. The impact of this cannot be underestimated. Children and young people are finding it difficult to adjust to a new situation. They are missing interactions with peers and education practitioners, caregivers and health workers who provide a rich, varied environment and opportunities to interact, receive feedback, develop, learn and enjoy a variety of experiences. They may be finding it difficult to understand why this has happened and unfortunately no one is currently able to give a clear end point of when things will return to normal, which makes things more difficult for them to comprehend.
Sense quickly took the difficult decision to stop providing face to face services for our children and young people, to minimise the risk to them. These services include our regular family events, weekly preschool groups and 1:1 support both at home and school. All of these services aim to support young people in developing their exploration and play skills, communication and interaction, confidence, access to sensory information (through residual vision and hearing) and access to alternative communication methods – including the use of tactile means. Group activities also provide opportunities for families to come together and share experiences, advice and support. Individual support provides families with the time they need to explore strategies which may support their child and family and discuss their specific needs.
Sense is continuing to provide as much support as we can to children, young people and their families, albeit through virtual means. Families who were receiving direct support from us are continuing to receive support through phone, email, video link and social media contact. We are still providing advice and support regarding educational and social care provision, to identify what young people need and where possible, to ensure it is in place, as soon as it can be accessed. We are working with families to problem solve, to find strategies which can support their young person while they are at home. We are also providing virtual groups and events using video links and have had some very positive feedback from families and young people themselves. It is so important now, more than ever, that we find ways to stay connected.
Protecting young people’s rights
We are continuing to undertake casework for families to ensure their children’s needs are met in all areas of provision and that their rights are protected. We are proving support around understanding and accessing support through the social care and education frameworks and continue to advocate for young people’s individual, unique and specific needs.
We work closely with the Policy Team at Sense who provide continually updated information which we can share with families. Current advice from the team to families is that there should be no change to what provision children with SEND should be receiving. It may be that the local authority has to deliver this provision in a different way, for example via video conferencing technology rather than a face to face meeting, but the amount of provision a child receives should currently remain the same. This remains the case until Section 38 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 is triggered by the Secretary of State for Education. Schools should also be making reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled children are still able to learn at home, such as providing computers or tablets with accessible software on for children who have a visual impairment.
Similarly, children and families should still be receiving the social care support agreed with the local authority. The same caveat is in place here that it might not be deliverable in the same way but alternatives should be sought where possible. You also may experience a reduction in or change of contact with your social worker. If you want to complain about or challenge a Local Authority decision about your child’s social care support it may now take longer to be subject to review.
For children and families going through the Education, Health and Care Plan drafting and planning process, the timescales for input and completion of these plans have now been relaxed, to what is reasonably practical. This means that it may take longer for the local authority to complete your child’s plan. The content of the plan should not differ though.
Local authorities should also be risk assessing all children and young people with SEND, to ensure that they are able to be safely cared for at home, and are identifying any additional support children and families might need while schools remain closed.