Will new health duty benefit all families with disabled children?

Edward Timpson, the Children and Families Minister, has announced that he will strengthen the special educational needs (SEN) provisions in the Children and Families Bill by placing an additional duty on the new clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). This will force them to guarantee health care services agreed as part of the new Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC Plan).

So does this mean that parents will no longer need to battle to get the health support their child needs?

Not exactly – although it is certainly a big step towards removing some of the battles that parents tell us they face in getting the right support for their child. It should mean that any child or young person who has an EHC Plan will be guaranteed access to health services such as speech and language therapy if it will help with their education and it is included in their Plan.

But, as is always the case, it is the detail that is important. We have yet to see exactly how this new duty will be included, but as this part of the Children and Families Bill remains education focused, the duty will only be enforceable if health care is needed to support learning. So the battles over deciding such things as whether help to eat lunch, or occupational health to improve posture are health or educational needs will remain.

Currently 87% of children with SEN do not have a Statement. They are unlikely to be eligible for the new EHC Plans. A quarter of disabled children have health or social care needs but do not have special educational needs. They will not be eligible for an EHC Plan either. So how will the duty on CCGs help this group – which contains the vast majority of children, young people and their families, all of whom will be reliant on universal services for support?

Parents have told us that they battle to get specialist services, or a Statement for their child because local provision such as childcare, leisure facilities or schools do not meet their needs.Or because it is the only way they can access health care such as physiotherapy. Neither the new duty on CCGs, or any of the existing ones in the Bill will change that – the Local Offer is simply a directory of services that a local authority ‘expects to be available’ in the local area. It is the equivalent of a SEN Yellow Pages. It will not guarantee help for families.

In other words, the battles that most parents face now will remain, even with the additional duty on health.

Scope is working hard to improve the Local Offer through our Keep Us Close campaign. We want all disabled children, young people and their families to benefit from the Children and Families Bill. We are asking the government to ensure that local authorities promote provision of inclusive and accessible universal services that all families can use. We are also fighting for enforceable duties on local agencies to improve the Local Offer where it is just not good enough and where families still battle to get the support they need.

Visit our Keep Us Close campaign to learn more.