Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Tuesday 25th November 7.00pm

children at Sutton Mencap

Scrutiny Overview Committee

The main item of business at this meeting was the review of the SEN Transport Policy.

As Carers Champion at the council I had taken efforts to hear the views of parent carers who might be affected by the changes to this policy, which proposed introducing pick up points for SEN children attending certain schools and currently receiving transport assistance in the form of door-to-door taxis. I had attended the support group of parents of children with Aspergers, made contact with parents through Contact a Family, corresponded with individual parents who voiced their concerns to me and talked with parents I know who have children with SEN statements.

As a result of these discussions I had concerns about the effect of the policy change on the parents of children on the Autistic Spectrum. Whilst a change to pick up points would appear to be a more efficient and cost-effective way to provide transport assistance, in the case of Autistic children it presented specific challenges which would result in increasing the burden of caring on the parents. The issues related to the specific disabilities of these children and also the domestic difficulties often experienced by parents of children with autism.

I raised these concerns with the Executive Member for Children & Young People, with the chair of the Scrutiny Overview Committee, with the chair of the Children & Young People’s Scrutiny Committee and sought further, more detailed information from the Executive Head of Parent, Pupil and Student Services.

 

The Liberal Democrat group had also had the opportunity to question Ms Lawson the Executive Head of Parent, Pupil and Student Services on the details of the policy and its implementation at a group meeting. The same opportunity was offered to the Conservative group but they turned it down.

 

I was therefore very pleased when I received the papers for this committee to find that the recommendation following the consultation was to exclude children on the autistic spectrum from the proposals. It came as a bit of a surprise to find that the parent representatives who spoke at the meeting were still very angry despite the change. I think that much of the discontent was that the proposal had been made at all, and the assumption that the decision was a fait accompli, rather than understanding that it was a consultation and that their views had been considered very carefully in reaching the final recommendation.

 

There were questions raised around the remaining 85 children with moderate learning disabilities or speech and language difficulties for whom the pick up points would still be applicable. We learnt through questioning that there was a distance criteria that had always been applied in the first instance which meant that SEN children living with two miles of their school, or three miles if aged eight or over have never been eligible for transport assistance. Ms Lawson advised that there were around 500 children with statements who were not eligible for transport assistance under the current scheme.

 

There was only one parent at the meeting who had a child with moderate learning disabilities and she was asked if she would like to address the meeting. This parent described her child’s disabilities and explained the difficulties using a pick up point would cause her family.

 

To me one of the important provisos of introducing this amended version of the policy was that every child who would fall within the criteria for pick up points would receive an individual assessment to ensure that it was appropriate for that child. I asserted the need to expand that assessment to include consideration of the whole family as in families where one member has a disability there are always wider implications for other family members. The parent who spoke was a good example of how the assessment should work. Given the disabilities she listed her MLD child as suffering, they should fall out of the criteria anyway, but if by chance that was not the case, then the extreme stress she described for herself & her family would be considered as well.

 

I was surprised to hear the leader of the Tory opposition asking for confirmation about whether the policy applied to children who were unable to walk as it was stated in both the policy document and in the consultation document (both attached to the meeting agenda) that it did not apply to non ambulant children.

 

I was even more surprised to hear that the Tories also had concerns about the original proposed policy given that this was the first time they had expressed those concerns. Had they had the serious misgivings they professed I would have expected them to have been raised before now, but neither the Executive Member nor any other member had heard from them. Cllr Theobald, an Independent, had been very vocal about his concerns and had had a number of meetings with officers & members to discuss his concerns, but the Tories had made no enquiries that we were aware of. It was not until this public meeting that they turned on their caring faces. Moreover this was a complete about turn as it was a Tory Councillor who had first made the suggestion that the council should consider pick up points for SEN children to address the cost issues, at a previous Scrutiny Overview Committee. All I can say is that it is easy to make promises and appear sympathetic when you are not in the position of having to deliver on those promises.

 

I was able to support the recommendation of the committee to accept the revised policy excluding children with autism based on the assurances given about the remaining affected children, the majority of whom I knew to be eligible for transport mainly on the grounds of distance from school.

 

Other agenda items included the budget consultation arrangements and the final report from the Corporate Assessment. All members of the committee agreed that the ‘bubble’ diagram of the council’s spending was a good, easy to understand part of the consultation exercise.

 

The committee was advised that as a result of the Audit Commission’s Corporate Assessment of the council in the summer Sutton had received the highest possible score. This was welcomed by most members and officers were thanked for their work in achieving this high accolade.

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January 12, 2009 - Posted by | Committee Meeting

2 Comments »

  1. Jayne

    I’m afraid the comment that you ascribe to me shows the difficulties that arise when you write about events from a couple of months ago.

    The original recommendation agreed by all members of the committee was to introduce pick up points for SEN children that attend certain schools if their teachers assessed the change as being appropriate to that child.

    This was taken by the Lead Councillor and changed to read that if children were ambulant, they would be expected to walk to a pick up point. I sought confirmation that this simplistic approach had been dropped.

    At the committee meeting, the full council meeting and in individual conversations with parents, I have confirmed that this budget is worth looking at and it was necessary to examine difficult decisions such as this. The policy was incomplete with no real costs and not enough detail about eligibility criteria or reviews. Therefore, the policy should have been sent back for a rewrite rather than pushed through. You cannot put parents through such stress and heartache without ensuring that the end result is known and would acheive what you set out to do.

    Comment by Cllr Paul Scully | January 13, 2009 | Reply

    • I would think that dragging the process out for even longer to obtain a rewrite would only prolong the agony of those parents uncertain of their position. Nor do I think that bogging the policy down in detailed eligibility criteria in an attempt to cover every possible scenaria is the right solution. To have the holistic, flexible approach I am championing there must be sufficient scope within the policy to allow discretionary decisions to be made.

      Comment by jaynemccoy | January 13, 2009 | Reply


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