Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Linkage Community Trust (CF 81)

Type of organisation: Linkage Community Trust is a national charity based in Lincolnshire, which delivers high-quality specialist education, care and employment support services to learning disabled people. Its 36-year history has established Linkage as a major provider in delivering flexible services, which promote personal autonomy, independence and achievement. The aim is to ensure that learning disabled people have the same rights and opportunities for inclusion, fulfilment and feeling valued in society as everyone else.

Linkage College is the longest-established specialist further education college in the country. It accommodates both residential and day students at our Lincolnshire campuses, aged primarily between 16 and 25. Linkage Care Services offer residential care, supported accommodation and respite care facilities in more than 70 properties across the county and beyond. Our Employment Services work in partnership with more than 140 employers to support learning disabled people into meaningful and sustainable work.

Linkage Community Trust is a registered charity no. 504913, Company Limited by Guarantee No. 01240377.

Summary
The developments to the Bill as it is passing through Parliament have, on the whole, been positive. However, more work still needs to be done to strengthen the accountabilities of key stakeholders, namely health, to ensure a holistic and joined-up approach is taken to support the child or young person in all aspects of their development.

The involvement of young people and their families, needs to be enshrined in the legislation to ensure that they remain at the heart of all decision making and are able to contribute fully to the process. If person-centred support is to become a reality rather than an aspiration, a similar stance as to the NHS concept of ‘no decision about me, without me’ needs to be adopted. There is need to retain the focus of keeping the young person at the heart of the process. This needs to be reflected in practice rather than being a theoretical objective. The only way this can be done is by including young people and their families from the very outset. Greater emphasis on advocacy, information and guidance is needed in order to facilitate this.

Young people and their families need to be supported to make informed choices about what support best meets their needs. The right to request a provider and the right to a personal budget will go some way to doing this, so long as it is accompanied by clear and useful information and guidance.


Response

1. Choice and control

1.1. Clause 19
Whilst clause 19 is a move forward it does not legally enshrine the right of choice.

This clause should be strengthened to ensure that young people and their families’ choices are upheld unless there is valid reason for this not to be the case.

1.2. Clause 36
Although Local Authorities are obliged to decide whether to make an EHCP following a parent’s request, there is no specified time limit that the LA has to adhere to, in order to make that decision and inform the parent.


2. Duty to admit

2.1. Clause 22
The problem is that these changes to legislation will not be introduced until at least Spring 2014 which will lead to implementation issues for the September 2014 cohort.

This clause does not include the S321 duty to identify all children and young people who need or may need a plan. The duty is only to identify the children and young people, it is not a duty to identify their needs through an assessment.

This clause should be amended to make it a duty for all children and young people with health and social care needs to have their needs identified through an assessment.

3. Cooperation

3.1. Clause 25
There is no duty specifically on health and social care services to make provisions identified in the EHCP. This needs to be strengthened to ensure that young people have all their needs met.

3.2. Clause 26
The addition that clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) will be under a duty to secure the health services in the plan is a step in the right direction. However, more needs to be done to ensure that health agencies are more involved in the process on a whole.

3.3. Clause 28 and Clause 41
These clauses ensure that Independent Specialist Colleges can be named on the EHCP.

4. Local offer

4.1. Clause 30
It is important that there is a common framework for local authorities to use to avoid inconsistency between different areas. At present, there is no national standard for local offers.  

In order for it to be truly effective and enable young people to achieve their desired outcomes, other agencies such as employment support providers and housing associations also need to be involved in the process, as well as education, health and the local authority.

5. Progression

5.1. Clause 35
This clause needs to extend the duty to further education providers. It is known that the inclusion of young people with learning disabilities on mainstream courses is a problem. It is important that these young people are fully integrated and are able to access suitable courses to meet their goals.

6. Personal budgets

6.1. Clause 48
Currently the personal budget process is very opaque and families are lacking the information, skills and guidance needed to use their budget to maximum effect. Clearer guidance and better support from local authorities are needed to get the best outcomes for families.

7. Information

7. 1. Clause 63
Linkage would support the proposed additional amendments in relation to Clause 63 - to bring colleges into the scope of Clause 63 therefore placing a duty on you to inform a child (and their parents) or young person (who does not have an EHC Plan) that you are providing them with special educational provision.

This replicates a duty currently in place for schools in respect of children.

It is important to strengthen the rights of parents and young people to have access to information, advice and guidance across education, health and social care.

7.2. Clause 64
Linkage would support the proposed additional amendments in relation to Clause 64 which would bring colleges into the scope of Clause 64 therefore placing a duty on you to prepare an SEN report containing information about

- policy for students with SEN

- arrangements for admission of disabled students

- steps taken to ensure disabled students are treated no less favourably than others

- facilities provided to assist access for disabled students

- plan prepared under the Equality Act

This replicates the duty currently in place for schools in respect of children and which is published on schools' websites.

This supports the response from the Select Committee for Education that Independent Specialist Colleges and Independent Schools for young people with SEN are added to the institutions for which young people and the parents of children with Education, Health and Care Plans can express a  preference and for this to be specifically included in accompanying regulations setting out the types of institutions that may be approved, the criteria an institution must meet for approval, the matters the Secretary of State should take into account in deciding whether to give approval and the publication of a list of institutions approved.

We welcome the extended funding to pathfinders until September 2014 to ensure learning from pathfinders continues particularly in relation to developing the regulations and the SEN Code of Practice.

8. General Comments:

8.1. Maintaining an EHCP (clauses 37-49)
Reassurance from Edward Timpson, MP, that the EHC plan will now not automatically end when a young person secures an apprenticeship is important in ensuring continuity for young people. Young people with a learning disability often need maintained support whilst in education and employment and it is important that this continues should they enter the workplace. The learning journeys of young people with learning disabilities are not necessarily linear and often extend over a much longer time period, hence the requirement for continued and extended support.

There is further need to ensure that EHC plans are reviewed should a young person become NEET. People with a learning disability often need breaks in their education or employment for a number of reasons. It is important that the plans are maintained and reviewed during this period to support the young person to move forward and meet their agreed outcomes rather than the plan ceasing.

April 2013

Prepared 19th April 2013