Local Authorities face a huge challenge to meet the new demands of the Children and Families Act 2014, which came into force on the 1st September.
According to leading education, health and social care lawyer Elaine Maxwell, inadequate funding and a lack of guidance on the new rules, many of which have yet to even be properly drafted or shared by their authors, creates a potentially disastrous scenario for unprepared local authorities.
Maxwell Gillott partner, Elaine Maxwell, says “Although the basic principles of the Children and Families Act 2014 may be the same as those within the Education Act, we are ending up with two completely different systems. The Government and Department for Education have stepped back from setting out guidance for local authorities and this is just disastrous”
Elaine continued: “All statements are to be transferred into Education, Health and Care Plans; however this is not going to be straightforward task for local authorities.”
The new legislation highlights that specific systems and formats need to be followed; however this will differ from authority to authority and Elaine sees this as particularly problematic.
“Local authorities have been given a maximum of 14 weeks to conduct a transfer, which is completely unrealistic. I am fearful that many children and young people with SEN are going to lose out on the support that they desperately need.”
Under the new act, consultations will take place between health/social care providers and local authorities, in order to jointly commission and plan provisions. However the provisions need to show that they are meeting an educational need.
The idea of an Education, Health and Care Plan to replace Statements, was to ease the pressure of families with children that have SEN, by encompassing all the three elements, however this is not the case as Elaine explains:
“As a result of considerable lobbying, the health and social care provision included within the new act has been vastly improved from the initial proposal. However because of the Department of Health’s budgets, these elements are not enforceable, nor are the appealable to tribunal. As such, families will have no more rights than at present.”
“Based on the funds and resources available to local authorities, and the fact that the transition regulations were not made immediately available, Local authorities don’t stand a chance of being able to meet the requirements of the new act, and their task is going to be almost impossible”