Coronavirus: Campaigners say families with special educational needs left to ‘fend for themselves’

A huge protest took place outisde Hackney Town Hall in 2018 over funding cuts. Picture: Melissa Byer

A huge protest took place outisde Hackney Town Hall in 2018 over funding cuts. Picture: Melissa Byers - Credit: Archant

Campaigners are sounding the alarm over the impact of coronavirus on families with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Independent parent-carer forum HiP, Hackney Special Education Crisis and parent support group As1 have warned “struggling parents” are unable to contact their social workers and those with conduct disorders are left without mental health support.

The groups are now calling on the council to go further in addressing the issues faced by families, many of whom already live with significant day-to-day challenges.

The Coronavirus Act enables the government to loosen the council’s legal duties to disabled people, but the group has urged the council to do all it can.

Campaigner Amanda Elliot said: “We know council and NHS services are under extreme pressure and are rightly focused on protecting people from the virus.

“But in these challenging circumstances, it is easy to forget SEND children and their families who are really struggling right now.

“Lack of support and access to services is creating huge pressures. No-one is untouched by the crisis but SEND families already live with many problems that are worsening because the support they rely on has dramatically fallen away.

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“Families in very difficult situations have been left to fend for themselves.”

Campaigners met with the council last month and it is understood the town hall has temporarily relaxed the rules around how families receive respite funding for short breaks, with an online resource hub for autistic children announced last week.

Hackney schools are also now calling families with SEND twice a week, and the town hall successfully lobbied the government to ensure free school meal vouchers are available.

But campaigners still want more to be done, including support for families living with SEND children in temporary accommodation hostels, and those with complex needs who are vulnerable to Covid-19 and often do not have the ability to prepare food, do laundry or access the internet without leaving the house.

Others are missing out on access to vital medical care, with the groups concerned those in “overcrowded and pressure-cooker home environments” could “regress significantly”.

The groups want direct children’s education health and care plans (EHCPs) payments, with families able to pay themselves for being children’s carers for the length of the crisis.

Council SEND lead Cllr Caroline Woodley said: “I fully appreciate parents and carers of young people with additional needs will be feeling very anxious. We are listening to their concerns and responding as best as we can in the circumstances to reassure and support them.”