Special needs care gets £1.3m boost

Alison Mercer with her seven-year-old son Tom, who has autism

Alison Mercer with her seven-year-old son Tom, who has autism

First published in News Witney Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Council Reporter, also covering Oxford city centre. Call me on 01865 425429

A TOTAL of £1.3m will be spent over the next two years to help young people with special needs in Oxfordshire become more independent.

Oxfordshire County Council has been given the money by the Government to help it introduce reforms which come into force in September.

The changes mean the council can provide support for people with special educational needs and disabilities until they are 25.

It also means young people and their parents must be involved in any decisions about their future.

Alison Mercer, who lives in Abingdon, has a seven-year-old son, Tom, with autism. She said: “We are still waiting for the detail on how it is all going to work in practice in schools.

“The extension of the age limit seems like a positive move and in principal the idea of having more control is good.”

In November 2012, charity Yellow Submarine, which supoprts people with special needs, received £10,800 from the Oxford Mail’s owners Gannett Media, through its Gannett Foundation.

Charity manager Toby Staveley said: “The changes introduce choice and control for people with special educational needs and that is the best way for them to participate and be properly included.

“For someone without a disability, 18 is a natural age at which to change services, but people with special education needs have not reached the same stage.

“If more funding is needed then in the long-term it will be an investment, because you are providing people with better training and skills and they are less likely to cost the public purse in the long run.”

The changes are included in the Children and Families Act 2014, which introduces a “streamlined assessment process” for those with severe and complex needs.

This includes integrating and pulling together help from education, health and social care services. Education, health and care plans (EHC) for young people can extend to age 25 if they remain in education. Children, young people and families with an EHC Plan have the option of a personal budget to spend however it best suits their needs.

The county council has been given £1.3m to hire staff and introduce training in schools and colleges.

Jim Leivers, the council’s director for children’s services, said: “There is a risk that additional financial pressures may arise as a result of statutory duties extending to age 25, as young people or their parents will have continuing expectations regarding educational provision.

“Additionally the personalisation and choice agenda may result in increased demand for services across education, health and social care. There are concerns about the sustainability of the programme after the one-off DfE grants end.”

At the moment there are 19,000 pupils in Oxfordshire who have special educational needs, making up 18.3 per cent of the total.

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