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(UK) Derbyshire: Nonverbal autistic twins, no special school places left

Aug 9, 2023, Derbyshire Times: 'I have to be their voice as the council is trying to take that away' says Chesterfield mum as twins left without special school place

E. Midlands

Kimberley Webb, 34, a mum of five, has spent the last 12 months fighting to get an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) set up for her twins Noah and Riley, aged four. The boys, who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and are nonverbal, need legal paperwork to be able to attend a specialist school.

An EHCP is a legally binding document outlining a child’s special educational, health, and social care needs and creating a plan of support for school.

Legally, the process should take a maximum of 20 weeks, but it has taken Derbyshire County Council 33 weeks to complete – and now there aren’t any spaces left for Noah and Riley in special needs schools in September….

Kimberley, from Chesterfield, said: “What the council has done is disgusting, unforgivable and detrimental.

"My kids are nonverbal so I have to be their voice and the council is trying to take that away.” Noah and Riley were diagnosed with autism in May 2022….

She said: “This is tearing my family apart because of the stress this is causing. I've got five children, three of those are disabled. And all I can focus on is this fight. It's a battle every single day - you send an email, and you wait for a reply. The council has been ignoring my emails for the whole way through this process from when it first started in August last year. "ECHP is meant to be a process done by the local authority and the parents' involvement.

But there were times when I went months without anybody contacting me. At no point was I given a lead officer to contact – and both boys should have been allocated a lead officer from day one of the process.

“The boys have a speech and language therapist, a pediatrician and an early years worker at the nursery. All those people and more should have been contacted by the council in the process and they weren't. I spent so many weeks chasing to find out if the professionals had received the paperwork, emailing the council and getting no responses. This completely consumed my life. I am lucky to be working in a family business. If I worked for anybody else, I would have been sacked by now. ”

Kimberley started a social media campaign asking friends, parents and local residents to send an email to the council.

On Friday, August 4, she finally was contacted by the authority – only to find out that the council would like to send both boys to the local mainstream primary school, as there are no places left in special needs schools. They said they hope to move the boys to the special needs school when the places become available….

"The local authority has said that the boys would not cope within a mainstream setting and need to be within a specialist school. And now they want to stick them in a local primary hoping for the best just because they haven't stuck to their legal deadlines….

A spokesperson for Derbyshire County Council said: “While we can’t comment on individual cases, Derbyshire has had a significant increase in the number of requests for Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs) and for the assessments and advice that go along with these.

This is a national issue and other local authorities are facing similar increases in demand. …

“Derbyshire County Council is investing significant additional staffing resources to address these challenges as well as reviewing and restructuring its services to manage the demand in the future. The additional resources are being deployed to both catch up and finalise those that have gone over the deadline and to also keep current and new plans within the 20 week timescale.

“At the same time we have had an increase in demand for special school places. We are working with the special schools to increase the places available. Where there are delays in identifying a special school place for a child we will work with the family and the existing schools or provision to look at what alternatives can be provided.”


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