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(UK) Devon: 2,000 kids on waitlist for autism assessment


SW England

Inspectors have raised concerns over a lack of progress to tackle failures in support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Devon, which were first raised almost four years ago.

A joint inspection team found significant weaknesses in SEND support in December 2018, including widespread concerns around delays and lack of quality in education, health and care plans for children.

Poor communication with parents was also highlighted as a problem as were challenges around the recruitment and retention of SEND staff.

But following their most recent visit, in May this year, inspectors found that services in Devon have “not made sufficient progress in addressing any of the significant weaknesses” outlined four years ago.

Concerns persist around failures by local leaders to develop a strategy to effectively tackle problems in support….

This strategy “fails to address the significant weaknesses that were apparent at the previous inspection and are still evident now”, according to inspectors….

“The lack of coherent action is significantly affecting the lives of children and young people and their families,” states the inspection team in a letter to Devon County Council and the county’s clinical commissioning group.

It warns health and council chiefs in Devon that their current plans are failing to address recruitment and retention problems among the county’s SEND workforces. “The current strategy is not based on a shared, honest and transparent self-evaluation process across the area,” inspectors also warn.

“This means that leaders do not fully understand the weaknesses so that they can tackle them. Leaders have not pulled together robust information to evaluate the impact of actions of the previous strategy….

“Parents feel that poor communication is symptomatic of a lack of understanding by staff of their lives and the challenges they face. It is contributing to an atmosphere where many parents now view the area with suspicion and hostility….

Other concerns raised include a failure to tackle lengthy waits children face for an autism assessment. There are almost 2,000 children on the waiting list in the county, with almost half waiting for more than a year.

Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council's cabinet member with responsibility for SEND support, said: “As a council, we recognise that the experiences of children and their families with SEND is falling far short of our aspiration for them, and we are sorry for the impact this has had on so many of our residents. …

Meanwhile, Cambridgeshire County Council is to invest £60m [$72M] into improving support for children with SEND. This includes expanding support in five schools and creating a further 500 special school places.

“There is an urgent need in Cambridgeshire to address the increasing demand for places for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities,” said Cambridgeshire children and young people’s committee chair Bryony Goodliffe.


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