Moore Blatch Solicitors: The Children and Families Act – two years on

The Children and Families Act 2014 – two years on

At the end of March 2014, the Children and Families Act 2014 finally became law and beginning implementation in September 2014. So, 2 years on, where are we?

At first there were concerns that there had been no real meaningful pilot and there was some initial confusion, with the Code of Practice being updated twice within months, leaving Local Authority’s underprepared to deal with the changes. There were also some significant changes within the act, including:

  • The introduction of personal budgets;
  • Increased duties on health and social care;
  • An extension to the legal protection from 0 to 25;
  • Increased parental and young person participation; and
  • The creation of a “Local Offer”.

It was hoped that these changes would improve the experiences of those using the system and provide for better outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) by introducing the Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

In reality, however, many Local Authorities continued as they were and saw the EHCP process as simply a rebranding of the SEN Statement; what was once Parts 2, 3 and 4 were now Sections B, F and I. Unfortunately, to some extent, this remains true; the only appealable sections at the moment are description of needs (Section B); provision to meet need (Section F); and school placement (Section I). The other sections therefore (A – K) seem redundant. This was not the change hoped for when the act made reference to an Education, Health and Care Plan. Where is the enforcement for Health and Social Care?

The standard of advice from professionals also remains the same. Sadly, in many instances, this means it is unsuitable for purpose. Whilst there are some Local Authority professionals, typically those familiar with the Tribunal process, whose reports are specific and quantified, this is far from the rule. This drives to the heart of the issues faced by Parents as, without clear evidence, it is not possible to identify the child’s needs fully, nor prescribe the level of therapy or support in a way which ensures the child receives the appropriate and adequate provision.

In respect of the involvement of the Parents this also remains largely unchanged. Those Local Authorities that already had developed working practises of involving the Parents and Young People continued to do so, some with more gusto, and those who never had involved Parents or Young People, converted Statements of SEN to EHCPs without so much as a meeting with the Parents.

It is clear that there are many issues yet to be tackled as part of the system for children with special educational needs. Hopefully with a bit of bedding in and continued involvement from judges, charities and parents, change can be made to implement a fairer system that reflects the intentions that were behind the Children and Families Act in the first place.

If you have any queries, please contact Erin Smart, Education Solicitor, Moore Blatch Solicitors.

Tel: 020 8071 8101