Report shares Sense concerns that disabled children aren’t getting the support they deserve

In recent weeks the House of Lords Children and Families Act Committee published a new crucial report scrutinising the implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014. The committee was set up to evaluate whether the Act has achieved its aim of improving the lives of children and families, particularly the most vulnerable children and young people in society.

How Sense supported the work of the committee

Sense supported the committee with its work in two ways. Firstly, we submitted a written response to the committee’s consultation. We outlined how children with complex disabilities and their families are not always receiving the SEND support they are entitled to, and that some local authorities are not meeting their statutory duties. In our research, undertaken in 2021, only 36% of parents told us that their child is currently receiving all the education, health, and social care support they are entitled to.

We hosted the committee at a visit to our services based in Barnet. They were introduced to disabled children and their families who are supported by Sense, along with some of our specialist staff. The committee heard the frustration from families in attendance that the Children and Families Act 2014 and other legislation, codes of practice and court judgements were not understood by people working in the system. Parents told the committee how they felt there was a lack of co-ordination between education, health and social care services, with one parent citing that their child was being supported by 36 staff and the child’s mother having to co-ordinate this.

Three women standing talking. They stand next to a table with a green table cloth, covered in arts and crafts items used for sensory play
Members of the Committee talking to a member of Sense staff

What did the committee conclude?

Unsurprisingly, the committee’s findings are pretty damning, concluding that The Children and Families Act 2014 has ultimately failed in meaningfully improving the lives of children and young people.

The committee state that the act has just “sat on the shelf, a piece of legislation which has languished as a result of a lack of implementation, inadequate scrutiny and incessant churn amongst Ministers and officials.”

This report makes clear that the intention of the Act was right, but it was a failure of implementation that has let down disabled children and their families. The report puts forward the recommendation that once an Act receives Royal Assent, the Government should publish a post-legislative scrutiny plan to ensure this failure of implementation doesn’t happen again. Including when a post-legislative memorandum will be published, if applicable, and details of the metrics which will be used to evaluate each section and what data will need to be collected to do so.

What Sense wants to see happen next

We agree with the committee’s conclusion that the lack of implementation of the act has failed children with complex disabilities and their families. However, we need to see support for disabled children and their families go much further. For too long children with complex disabilities have been let down by poor implementation of legislation and lack of support and they continue to suffer through public service failures including poor SEND services.

As we await the Government response to the SEND Review there are two key principles that we’re holding to:

  • We need a system that works for all children: All children deserve a good education, and for that we need a system that meets their needs.  For this to happen, there needs to be recognition that no two children are the same and the support they need will be different. We need a system that accurately identifies the needs of children and has the resources in place to meet them. This is particularly the case for those children who need specialist support. Our research, carried out in 2021, highlighted the lack of MSI teachers who provide vital support to deafblind children.
  • It’s not just about education: While the SEND system is often about supporting children in education it’s also about meeting their health and social care needs too. Many families tell us that the focus is often on education, with the other parts of the system not being as engaged or involved. We need to see systems truly working together to enable disabled children and their families get the support they need to live their lives.

At Sense we will continue to work to champion the needs of children who are deafblind and those with complex disabilities to ensure that their needs are heard by Government. Whilst the findings of this report aren’t a surprise to us, we hope that they add strength to the growing numbers of people who want to see change happen.