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(UK) England: Special ed system in "disarray"; "thousands of parents...despairing"

Mar 7, 2020, BuzzFeedNews: These Heartbreaking Accounts Show How Families Are Being Pushed To Breaking Point By A Failed System For Kids With Special Needs https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexspence/conservative-reform-failing-children-special-needs To launch a major ongoing reporting project, BuzzFeed News spoke to more than 20 parents who revealed the stark human cost of an ambitious Conservative education reform that's gone disastrously wrong…. In the East Midlands, Kathy Trent (not her real name) is in the midst of her latest dispute with a local authority she claims has badly failed her two autistic sons. Years of battling an unsympathetic bureaucracy has left her mentally exhausted, in chronic pain, and profoundly disillusioned about the way society treats its most vulnerable children. “I feel like a war veteran,” she says. In Nottingham, Buffy Iles logs into a government website to check whether any council-owned houses have become available in her area this week. For ten months, she’s been bidding for a place in social housing so that her three autistic teenage sons have a secure place to live. But on this day, again, there’s nothing for them. Only one property matches Iles’s criteria and she’s 30th in the queue. She’s growing increasingly despondent. “I feel I’ve failed my kids,” Iles says. “I’ve struggled with every part of the system, health, education, and it’s broken me as my kids don’t have the future they deserve. Did I do the right things at the right times? Hard to live with that now.” Across England, thousands of parents like these are despairing about the future of their children with complex special needs and disabilities (SEND). In 2014, they were promised that an overhaul of the special needs system by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition would transform their lives and give their kids a brighter future. Six years later, however, many families are stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare that has dashed hopes that their children will someday live independently, and put intolerable strain on their relationships, finances, and health…. Some abandoned careers to look after kids who were forced out of schools. Others exhausted savings and racked up debts paying for lawyers and expert reports. Several became mentally ill because of stress. In a few cases, the pressure got to be so great that parents contemplated killing themselves…. Under the new system, ministers said, children with special needs would be identified earlier; teachers, social services and medical professionals would work together more coherently; schools would have ample dedicated budgets for high needs pupils; and the legal right for these kids to access support would be strengthened and extended to the age of 25. Those who need the most help would be given new education, health and care plans (EHCPs), formal documents that guaranteed the holistic support they would need to develop to the best of their abilities. But while the government’s intentions were laudable, its implementation of the new policy has failed to live up to those promises. The Department for Education had no real plan to overcome the deep systemic problems that dated back decades: the lack of transparency and accountability in local authorities around the country, insufficient joined-up working between professionals, and a culture that too often ignored the views of parents or treated them as the problem. … Six years on, the system is in disarray. … The parents’ accounts give new urgency to a mounting body of evidence about the shocking scope of the crisis. Among a stack of bleak official reports in recent months was a finding by the National Audit Office that the system is “not, on current trends, financially sustainable” and a warning by the Local Government Ombudsman that it is “a system in crisis”. … Department for Education scheduled to give evidence.Robert Halfon, the senior Tory MP who chairs the education committee, told BuzzFeed News. “The system is in a huge mess,” knows this. Every MP sees it in their constituency surgeries… It is entirely wrong. It’s a major social injustice.” Boris Johnson’s Conservative government sought to head off these concerns in September, before the general election campaign began, announcing that it would put another £700 million a year into special needs education and hold a wide-ranging review of how the 2014 reforms have been working. “We’re putting huge amounts into special educational needs,” the prime minister said in a campaign speech in the run-up to December’s general election. But those were just stopgap measures, parents say. …