Our Legal Rights Service provides families of children with brain conditions with help when facing difficulties accessing support services they are entitled to. As part of the project we receive regular requests for help from families who are struggling to access crucial support services for their children and the family as a whole.
The Coronavirus pandemic has intensified the already tremendous pressures families with disabled children face on a daily basis. This has been particularly worrying in cases where families were already at ‘breaking point’ pre-pandemic as a result of a constant battle with health, social and other services for support.
In general, families have reported that many local authorities, especially at the outset of the pandemic, were using the virus as an excuse not to carry out their duties and in some cases parents were simply being ignored when seeking support. The volume of online guidance and the lack of communication from local authorities has left many families unaware of the constant changes and feeling desperately unsupported.
The following quote from a parent shows the extent of the complete lack of support for her child and the detrimental impact this must have had on the whole family:
In lockdown my SEN child didn’t have any school work to do. No input from services from authorities from school. No resources. No plans and activities what to do. My child was left forgotten without support and was missing out on education. SEN children need access to speech language OT therapies and many other services haven’t been there. No support for parents. Even dental treatment was a challenge as my child needs to be under sedation while procedure is done. Everyone failed my son.
We have had parents contact us who have had to stop work to care full time for their children due to school closures, respite centre closures and carers ceasing work due to Covid. In some cases, parents were told by their local authorities that their disabled children were not able to attend school as they were “only concentrating on children of key workers”. This left many families in limbo not knowing when their child could return safely to school and without any form of support for several months. Some parents even lost their jobs as a result of having to care full time for their child and came to us seeking information on what benefits they were entitled to.
One Welsh school refused a child’s attendance at school despite him falling in the category of a ‘vulnerable’ child. The child’s behaviour became more and more challenging as a result of the drastic change in routine and the whole family was at risk of harm from his behaviour. Despite this, the school continued to assert that he could not continue with his education in his usual setting.
There are a number of lessons that local authorities can take from this pandemic including being more adaptable to change and implementing such changes promptly and effectively. Clear and fair policies should be drawn up without delay based on the relevant guidance and authorities must be prepared to respond to queries and concerns from families and act on the issues raised.
It is however encouraging to see the recent implementation and use of virtual meetings to expedite appeals and complaints. Overall, local authorities should continue improving and adapting their processes, communication and policies while keeping the public at the forefront of their decisions to overcome the ever changing demands that occurs as a result of a global pandemic.
If you are having difficulty accessing the right services for your child, you can access our Legal Rights Service here.