So with behaviours escalating at a rapid rate of knots and exclusions coming thick and fast, I asked school, repeatedly, if they could apply to the Local Authority (LA) for an Education, Health and Care Assessment. This is the first step to obtaining an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and is a legal document which should clearly set out the needs of an individual child and also, most importantly, clearly indicate what support is required for that child. (EHCP Process Support).
School weren’t familiar with the process?!
However, I was informed in no uncertain terms that an EHCP application wasn’t something that school ‘had commenced yet’ for any student. The explanation I was given, for not applying for my daughter, was that the EHCP had replaced what used to be ‘Statements’ and they hadn’t changed these over yet for those students with a current Statement and ‘weren’t familiar with the process’. Really?? Why was this not a seamless transition and why weren’t school up to speed on the new process which was rolled out a year ago? This actually also turned out to be a blatant lie as another parent informed me they had previously had the same issue with the school but had indeed secured an EHCP! Why would the school lie to me?
Anyway, my request to apply for an EHCP did fortunately prompt school to implement a ‘School Based Plan’. I was astounded that this wasn’t already in place given where we were with behaviours and the amount of external services being bought in! I also quickly learnt that the School Based Plans, in particularly the ‘Reviews’, were paramount as part of the EHCP application process, as without these, the school apparently couldn’t even apply.
Should I apply myself?
Unfortunately, school continued to drag their heels and having researched the minefield of the EHCP process (with massive help from the IPSEA Website) and spoken to a helpful lady in the ISEND Team, I was made aware that I could in fact apply for an EHCP myself. However, at the time it was felt, by the ISEND Team, that the application ‘is better coming from the school’ as would have more clout apparently! So I decided not to apply myself but I was definitely going to be on the school’s case to ensure it was done correctly! I was lucky that school were FINALLY on board, however, if school had continued to be avoidant or unhelpful, at least I had the knowledge that I could apply myself.
Eventually, after a lot of persuasion and time wasted (school not knowing the process, deliberations regarding whether to wait for the Educational Psychologist’s availability or not and wrong forms completed etc) school finally made the application! It was an anxious wait….everything crossed we met criteria and we weren’t turned down!
After, what seemed like forever, I was elated to receive the letter from the LA confirming that they had agreed to assess! However, I received this written confirmation on 9th July 2015. Great, just before the summer holidays…..how was this going to work? The education systems shut down over the summer!?
Fortunately, despite my fears, the EHCP process continued throughout the holidays, albeit an Educational Psychologist wouldn’t be available until the new term.
Whilst an Educational Psychologist was assigned to our case and I awaited her assessment, I busied myself collating any evidence I felt was important ie CAMHS and Paediatrician reports, GP report, Social Workers family assessment and Family Support meeting reports, home/school communication books etc and I even included historic information from my daughter’s old childminder. I personally felt that the more information that could be included, the better our chance of being issued an EHCP – everything crossed!
As the weeks ticked by it was an anxious wait! Was there enough information/evidence? Were we ‘severe enough’ in someone else’s mind who didn’t even know my daughter personally? Would the professionals make the right judgement and issue an EHCP? So many questions that couldn’t be answered at the time, I just had to sit back and try to patiently wait!
Thankfully in time I received good news! We had been successful and ISEND had agreed to issue an EHCP! Phew!
The reality of seeing it all in black and white
So in September 2015, I receive the Draft EHCP, still no named school, however what I did have in front of me was a wad of papers and within them were all my daughter’s identified needs – there all written down in black and white! As a parent, it’s a weird feeling to see all this information, about your child, within a legal document and it certainly came with mixed emotions! Whilst the past few weeks/months had been hectic, gathering information and hoping for this outcome, when you see it all written down, all the difficulties she has, it’s a stark reminder of how different our lives were to the one we imagined.
When you see things like: ‘she likes to be in control of her peers’, ‘she has significant difficulties with managing her emotions and behaviour’, ’her behaviours have been unpredictable and aggressive’, ‘she can have significant and aggressive outbursts towards adults and peers’, ‘she finds it hard to regulate her emotions’, ‘she has difficulties with appropriate social interaction and needs to develop social skills so that she can work within a group’, ‘outbursts can be mood related and it is difficult to foresee triggers’, ‘she can be defiant and oppositional with adults’ etc, it’s no wonder it takes time to find an appropriate placement!
The ‘placement’ controversy
However, the school that the LA had decided was appropriate and who were being approached (a ‘State Special School’) continued to be full. I was naturally keen to get my daughter back into education as soon as possible (having had to pull her out of mainstream for her own well-being) and frustratingly couldn’t understand why if this school was full, why ISEND weren’t actively looking at other schools who could potentially offer a placement? Later to discover, well realise really, how influential ‘budgets’ were! Drrrr!
It was in November 2015, I tried to enlist the support of my local MP as the placement that the LA felt was the correct placement for my daughter was not, in my mind, suitable and couldn’t offer a placement anyway. Unfortunately, my MP confirmed that he has no influence on where the LA place children.
A parent’s worst dilemma
There was a great deal of backwards and forwarding throughout the process regarding placement (that continued to be full!) so in the meantime I started to look at Residential Schools. I was struggling; with behaviours at home, with my daughter out of education and I was just about holding onto my employment by the skin of my teeth!
Residential Schooling is sadly often a controversial subject and comes with a host of differing opinions, from the LA shying away as ‘too costly’, to other parents horrified at even the thought of another parent considering ‘sending their child away’, to the personal feelings of sadness, guilt and failure for even considering this as an option! However, behaviours were spiralling massively out of control and in my opinion, I viewed Residential School as a far better option than my daughter going into Care. Even the thought of her potentially going into ‘Care’ totally broke me and the very idea ached my heart so bad it was similar to the feelings of grief!
So having researched and contacted various Residential Schools, I was horrified to learn that there were only two residential schools, nationally, that felt able to meet my daughter’s needs and were able to offer a place! In addition, these were in Dorset, which was 140 miles away from home! This was a very daunting prospect and how could I possibly be considering sending my daughter this far away from home at the tender age of 7?!
However I had to try and look at the positives and the Residential Schools offered something that the proposed LA placement couldn’t; Speech & Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Riding Therapy, an onsite Psychologist/Psychiatrist/GP/nurse – could this be the route I had to take?
But hang on…
But hang on, I just so happened to be in the car when I overheard an advert on the local radio about a Specialist Independent School close by to where we lived! This school ‘catered for children with Autism who also displayed challenging behaviours’ – could this possibly be another option?
So I went back to the ISEND Team and suggested this local Specialist Independent School was put on the table and requested for this to be given careful consideration.
Having had our case presented to the Joint Agency Placement Panel (JAPP) for the third time now, all of which came with the usual fears and agonising wait…it was finally agreed to offer her a place at this Specialist Independent School. At last!!
In December 2015, we were issued our Final EHCP! Yay, we had made it to the end of the process and had an appropriate placement secured!
We were one of the luckier ones
Unlike many families, we were fortunate in the sense that we didn’t have a battle (apart from the initial battle with mainstream school) to obtain an EHCP, but that’s not to take away the stress and frustration that comes as a natural part of the process. However, we made it, we got there and now armed with an EHCP and finally a placement, off we were going to a Specialist Independent School after four months of being out of education, aged just 7…..