When an organisation asks for trust from the community it serves, is it asking too much?
Trust in many ways is a simple choice, buts it’s most often built on similarities, a shared history and an element of shared risk.
So, when the organisation asking for trust is the local authority (LA) and the community asked to trust are parents of disabled children in 2019, a relationship fraught with imbalance, is the leap to trust simply a step too far?
We all know that the government is underfunding education and that it’s specifically underfunding support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Our local MP, Sir Vince Cable, tabled a House of Commons debate on the 12th February 2019 to raise the issue and impact of SEND underfunding. During the debate, he read from a letter sent to him by Richmond SEND Crisis, a newly formed parent group focused on stopping planned cuts to claw back a £5m high needs block overspend in Richmond-upon-Thames in a single year.
Sir Vince opened by saying: “I will introduce the debate by quoting a parents’ group called Richmond SEND Crisis, which wrote to me yesterday, describing the problem from the parents’ point of view. The group said:
“The crisis in funding has consequences. It means more stress and mental health issues for both parents and children, parents being forced to give up work, increased levels of family break up, increased levels of children being disruptive in school, failing in school or not being in school at all. It means that schools and the wider school community suffer, as children without proper support tend to absorb a disproportionate amount of time from school staff and may be disruptive in class.
All of these consequences inevitably hit the most vulnerable… families the hardest.””
Interestingly, throughout the debate he referenced several LA tactics aimed at denying and delaying support and the impact that these pernicious practices (delaying recognition of need, rationing, refusing to fund residential places and support aids, pushing parents to tribunal knowing they will win and the LA will lose) have on children and their families. MP’s quoted constituents several times saying that they just wanted to be parents but were forced into becoming ‘warriors’ at great personal cost. You can read the full debate here.
I’ve blogged before on my little family’s journey to get support for my son (“A tale of LA skulduggery and a lost childhood”). It’s mirrored by hundreds of thousands of families from across the country. We are in no way unique. We carry the risk of our children’s future.
Councils will no doubt say that by acknowledging and responding to our children’s need will lead to further overspending which puts the council at increased risk of being placed in special measures. Being required to produce a ‘Written Statement of Action” following an Ofsted Local Area SEND Inspection, as so many LA’s have, seems a very small price to pay when faced with the responsibility for balancing the accounts.
Which brings us back to trust. How can parents be asked to trust when they have already been forced by that self-same organisation to fight and challenge for their children? When their risk is purely personal. When they will live with the consequences every day for the rest of their lives.
Is it simply a matter of the LA levelling the playing field by adopting more of the risk? Of taking the fight for more funding overall to the Government in the form of a Judicial Review perhaps. That would certainly be a great start. It would establish common grounds with parents. Demonstrate that we are all in this fight together. As would stopping the policies that nurture and create those ‘warrior’ parents in the first place.
Until the Local Authority gets some skin in the game then I reserve the right to be cautious – to consider that being asked to trust is merely being asked once more to co-operate. Not to challenge vocally and publicly. Which I have to say I am not inclined to do.
If the LA wants trust then it’s up to the LA to demonstrate that they can be trusted – and that means deeds not words.