Special Educational Needs and Disability Information Advice and Support Services, or SENDIAS services, are a vital part of the picture when talking about support for children with SEND and their families nationwide. Here Hazel from our Solihull SENDIAS service breaks down the nuts and bolts of how their service works, and highlights the joys and frustrations of their role.
The first thing families should know is that we are a statutory service. Every local authority HAS to have one. Some are in-house and are run by their own local authority, many are outsourced, like ours. SENDIAS’s offer information, advice and support for children and young people aged from 0 up to 25 with SEND. We work with families whose children are sometimes as young as pre school & nursery and at times with young people & their families who are at college or in an apprenticeship/internship.
We help families with SEND education, social care and health-related issues to do so, we have to have a good knowledge of all the relevant legislation and guidance. Therefore we have to pass legal training in SEND Laws to ensure this is the case. We’re completely confidential and impartial: We work with schools, services and healthcare providers to ensure children’s needs are met, but also step in to support parents and young people, when services, schools or the local authority aren’t meeting the child’s needs.
This can include helping them to challenge things like school exclusions and make formal complaints. Our most in-depth work includes supporting families at tribunal appeals and attending court. Appeals can be about getting an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), or the content and placement named in an EHCP or a disability discrimination claim against a school or service. In recent years we’ve seen more and more families go to appeal, so much so that the waiting list to see appeal judges nationally has more than doubled.
That can also be difficult for families and it impacts upon our capacity as we support the family while they prepare for & then wait for a resolution, during which time the child and family may plunge further into crisis. We have a waiting list of families needing our support. In practice, we’ll always try to get everyone together to find a resolution so it doesn’t have to go to tribunal if possible.
“We want to empower families so while we’re supporting them, we’ll also try to educate them on the law, as we know they’ve often got a long journey ahead of them, so we try and provide the tools they may need to face their individual challenges.”
I think one of the greatest skills we need is to be able to learn complex information (the law) and relate it into practise for children, young people, families and even other professionals. We want to empower families so while we’re supporting them, we’ll also try to educate them on the law, as we know they’ve often got a long journey ahead of them, so we try and provide the tools they may need to face their individual challenges. We’ve got lots and lots of resources for families, adults, and professionals but it’s a time-consuming job trying to develop resources, especially those aimed specifically at children and young people.
One thing I’m personally very proud of is how we never forget that we work for the child and young person and in their best interests, we always take the time to engage with them and encourage other services to do so as well.
It’s always nice when a child who we’ve been told hasn’t engaged with other services opens up to us. Forging these deep relationships means that often it can be difficult to be impartial, as it doesn’t matter what we think about a situation – it’s our job to offer support, which is why our advice is always from a legal perspective.
We advise people regarding the law or local processes to allow them to make an informed choice but, ultimately, it’s their choice, which is a good thing, although it can sometimes be difficult in practice when a situation is complicated.
At times it’s can be a challenge to stay up to date with the legal stuff, and I remember that, particularly during COVID, the rules changed every five minutes! In general, COVID had a huge impact on children and young people, particularly in the area of mental health, and we’ve seen that impacting on family relationships in the home.
“We need a better system that builds capacity for children and families who require support, but to be successful and to have a positive impact on families, it needs to have a systemic approach, and not just focus on the education of the child, but on a holistic approach for the whole family.”
Parents are pleased with our service and the work of services like ours, but it’s really difficult at the moment with lots of societal issues impacting our work. For instance, the education sector being under such pressure means there is limited capacity at special schools and families themselves are under additional stress due to rising cost of living.
Sometimes the stories we hear can be upsetting, and it can be quite overwhelming even though the result is nearly always positive for the families we work with, so it’s very important that we support each other as a team. Also, like any service nowadays, the money’s tight for us.
We welcome the recent acknowledgement from national government that we need a better system that builds capacity for children and families who require support, but to be successful and to have a positive impact on families, it needs to have a systemic approach, and not just focus on the education of the child, but on a holistic approach for the whole family.
SENDIAS services will be so important in providing that approach, and we are hopeful that implementation of the improvement plan will support services like ours to meet our growing demand.
Any child, parent or carer can self-refer to a SENDIAS service. Find out more about Family Action’s services.