Families describe 'trauma' and accuse Kent County Council of 'neglect' over special needs support

ITV News Meridian's James Dunham sits down with four parents who are calling for radical change

Kent County Council has been accused of neglecting children who have special educational needs and disabilities.

Four parents, who've all experienced difficulties getting their children suitable support, have told ITV Meridian assessment deadlines are being missed and claim educational healthcare plans, or EHCPs, are being watered down so the authority only needs to provide minimum help.

The local authority is under pressure from the education watchdog OFSTED to improve services while the Government has told the council it needs to reduce its budget on SEND provision.

Mother of two adoptive children Katie Hall has been fighting for the right support for her sons who she says have complex needs.

She said: "They came from a neglectful household beforehand and it now feels Kent County Council are neglecting their needs.

"They're completely detrimental to their mental health needs and it's such a shame that it all comes down to funding."

  • Katie Hall says she is 'exhausted' by the process

"I used to wake up, feel sick immediately with what on earth was going to happen today", says Lauren who had to battle for 18 months to get her son into a suitable school.

"You feel from the beginning that you are a problem, a huge problem, your child's a problem.

"The government need to give more funds but Kent have to manage the process clearly. Having appropriately trained SENCOs, having properly trained teaching assistants who support the children.

"I often think it feels like because they struggle for so long without the support at that level that it ends up a bigger problem than it ever needed to be.

"You're not allowed to break a timeline? Absolutely not. But they can break whatever timeline they choose with no repercussions and just leave these children indefinitely out of education.

"Our officer kept saying to us 'we can go to tribunal' and you just think it's almost like they want us to get to that point to go to tribunal."

  • Mother and campaigner Lisa Lloyd says children with special educational needs and disabilities are being written off

Matt Crawley, whose son has been out of education for 11 months, said: "I've got no trust in the system at all, it feels like a gaslighting. I feel like I'm going a little bit crazy, like maybe I'm doing everything wrong and actually, like, I need to just go along with it, you know?

"But maybe that's that's where they want us to get to is that sense of giving up."

In January 2019 Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission found 'significant weaknesses' in Kent's special educational needs provision and that parents lacked confidence in the services.

In September 2022, a damning assessment found the council had not made sufficient progress in addressing nine areas of serious weakness - which included "poor progress" being made by too many children and "unacceptable waiting times" for some services.

In March this year, the council was put on formal notice to improve  - and now risk losing control of special education needs and disability services unless they up performance.

The government has agreed to give Kent a £140 million bailout to pay off an overspend on these services but in return, the budget must be balanced by 2027.

Lisa Lloyd is part of the campaign group SEND reform and also worries her son will not be well supported when he transitions into secondary school.

She said: "Any parent can appreciate how much it put our children behind during lockdown. All the children. This is essentially what we're going through every day of our lives.

"It's the basic need. You know, we're not a third world country. All children should be entitled to an education that's suitable for them."

Matt added: "It just feels like a waking nightmare, to be honest. It's just trauma. Trauma. And we just don't trust that anything is going to get better."

How does Kent County Council plan to get education for special needs students back on track?

Our reporter Sarah Saunders sat down with the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills at Kent County Council, Councillor Rory Love, who told her that more children with special needs will be taught at mainstream schools in future.

Cllr Love said: "I think there is an issue nationally - and it affects us rather more than it has affected other parts of the country - where we have huge numbers of children who have been identified as having special educational needs.

"Part of the issue there results from the consequences of the pandemic where children lost out on some of their education.

"And one of the things that we've noticed, and indeed that Ofsted have noticed, is that some children have been identified as having special educational needs when in actual fact, they've got a missing part of their education. They're not the same thing...

"Over time as more mainstream schools become proficient at handling all children with their range of needs - then there will be more children educated within a mainstream setting."

He added: "What we are absolutely focused is running according to the special educational needs code of practice - and that explains who needs an EHCP.

"That explains who needs an EHCP but also, its not just EHCP,  the work we are putting in our inclusive strategy for schools is to ensure a much wider range of children with special educational needs can be appropriately educated within mainstream school settings."

  • Watch full interview with Cllr Rory Love, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills at Kent County Council.