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Watchdogs’ damning report raps ‘widespread failings’ in provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities in Hertfordshire

Too many of the 36,500 children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Hertfordshire are being failed by the authority which should be helping them.

That is the damning verdict of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Ofsted after scrutinising services provided by the county council and NHS Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care Board (ICB).

Together, as the Hertfordshire Local Area Partnership, they oversee the commissioning of education, social care and health provision – but the watchdogs identified "widespread and/or systemic failings".

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The newly published report says the result was "significant concerns about the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND".

Issues identified by the inspectors include poor communication with parents and carers, who then have to resort to formal routes to try to secure suitable provision for their child.

The report says: "This results in frustrations and additional pressures on families in trying to meet the needs of their child."

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Delays in receiving and reviewing education, health and care plans (EHCP) that are often poor quality are also a problem.

The report says: "Parents and practitioners are frustrated when errors that have been pointed out at the draft planning stage are not corrected in the final report. Plans do not set out clearly enough the provision that will enable each child or young person to be successful. Plans lack precision and clarity.

"Too many children and young people with SEND in Hertfordshire do not feel they are listened to or asked about the help they need."

The failings are limiting the youngsters' chances of success and forcing parents to educate their children at home.

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Some young people have to wait too long for specialist mental health care – with potentially serious consequences.

The report notes "a substantial number of parents and carers also report that there is not enough short-break provision to meet the needs of families".

In response, the Hertfordshire Local Area Partnership has apologised to families and pledged to improve its performance.

Conservative Herts County Council leader Cllr Richard Roberts
Conservative Herts County Council leader Cllr Richard Roberts

It will submit a detailed priority action plan to Ofsted and the CQC by December 19.

To ensure independent and expert oversight of its delivery of this plan, Dame Christine Lenehan has been appointed as the new chair of the partnership’s multi-agency improvement board.

Dr Jane Halpin, chief executive of Herts and West Essex Integrated Care Board
Dr Jane Halpin, chief executive of Herts and West Essex Integrated Care Board

She said: “I am delighted to be working in partnership with Hertfordshire on their improvement journey. I look forward to supporting and challenging all partners to ensure we move towards better outcomes for children and families."

Cllr Richard Roberts, leader of Herts County Council and chair of the integrated care partnership, said: “We accept the findings of the report and recognise too many children and young people with SEND and their families have not received the support they need and deserve.

"We are all, across the whole partnership, sorry for this and are taking urgent action to address the priority actions and areas for improvement.

“There are more than 36,500 children and young people identified in Hertfordshire schools as having SEND. Most children and young people with additional needs do not require an EHCP to access the support they need, as these are for those with the most complex needs, but we have seen a 185% increase in children and young people with EHCPs since 2015.

"We know that we’ve struggled to keep up with that increase and that’s why SEND improvement is a key priority for both the county council and local NHS.

“I am pleased inspectors recognised that we understand the issues faced by children, young people and their families in Hertfordshire and have already put in place a strong strategy to address this, including an additional ongoing £5m investment into statutory SEND services and creating 1,000 new SEND school places between 2018 and 2026. We’re determined to build on this to go further and faster to deliver the actions and improvements needed.

"We recognise improving services and rebuilding trust will take time, but the whole partnership will do all we can to make sure children with additional needs and their families have the right support at the right time more often.”

Dr Jane Halpin, chief executive of the Herts and West Essex ICB, said: “Patients are at the heart of everything we do in the NHS and we always want to ensure the best quality care and support to give every child the best start in life.

"This inspection has given our partnership the chance to see the full picture of everything we need to do to improve our services and ensure families have all the support they need at the right time.

"I would like to thank all the families in Hertfordshire that contributed to the inspection and shared their views, and offer an apology to those who have had to wait longer for NHS services.

“We know our hard-working staff will be disappointed to see the issues raised in this report but know that there were some highlighted positives recognised. This includes the fact that we are meeting the needs of children and young people who have clearly identified [as having] complex needs.

“All organisations in the partnership recognise the challenges and have a joint plan for addressing them.

“Work is underway to develop a programme to support a further significant shift in the way children and young people who have additional needs are supported.

“We have already improved the information available to support education, health and social care practitioners to help children and families.

“We are committed to making sure we are doing everything we can do to support living an ordinary life for children and young people with SEND.”

Leise Cooper, chair of Herts Parent Carer Involvement (HPCI), said: “Families in Hertfordshire have long reported that services in the county are not meeting their children’s needs and we are pleased this report recognises this and identifies areas for improvement.

“We welcome the urgency with which the local partnership is looking to address the issues raised – it is now vital to ensure that plans for improvement are delivered quickly and effectively.

"HPCI will continue to challenge and support the partnership to drive change and ensure that work remains focused on how these changes will improve the lives of children and young people.”

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