This is a story about trust. Now I can appreciate that to many, seeing the words ‘trust’ and ‘Local Authority’ (LA) on the same page will evoke strong feelings and I completely get that. We have been shafted in the extreme in the past – even hardened SEN warriors gasp when they see what happened to us a couple of years ago (see here).
I absolutely HATE fighting. I am a collaborator by nature and so there is nothing in it for me when things get nasty. I will avoid this at all costs. However, I WILL, ABSOLUTELY, never stop working to protect my children. If I can find a way to do this without a battle I will do (pretty much) anything legal, moral and ethical. If I have to fight I will fight. Believe me.
Following the protracted and obstructive behaviour described here my reasons not, under any circumstances, to trust staff from the LA were consolidated after Peter started his at specialist residential school. It took just 6 months before the LA again tried to destabilise his provision. A new Case Officer was allocated to his annual review. I had not had any dealings with this Case Officer before, she had no knowledge of Peter, so I asked if we could chat or meet before the review. “That would be very unprofessional she replied”. I offered to send her some information, to meet with her at the school half an hour before the meeting … again she refused point blank. The day before the annual review she changed it to a “Placement Review” – I can only assume she was aiming to remove his provision. Despite saying it was wrong to meet with either school or parents before the review she managed a nice long visit and chat with school before the meeting. She then proceeded to accuse me of lying about Peter’s wishes in the meeting (much to the shock of the school staff who quickly backed me up). Again I was taught that it would be wrong to trust anyone from the LA.
Fast forward three months and yet another challenge comes our way as Peter’s placement was breaking down (see 36 hours). I needed the LA to help and was utterly terrified. Terrified for the state that Peter was in, terrified that the LA would use this as an opportunity to somehow destroy his package of support, terrified of having to fight and finally terrified of what that fight would do to my precious family that was so very fragile already. I was in bits, unable to eat and continuously in tears. My GP was totally supportive and she gave me her time and unconditional belief that things were as bad as I was describing, as well as a sick note for the Job Centre and I was able to breath a little again.
So there we go. I was broken, terrified and needed someone that I could trust to help me to sort it out. I took the plunge and made a gamble.
This time I was allocated the Senior Case Officer.
Feeling shaky and trying not to cry I talk to him. We had never spoken before. “I am really scared for Peter I explain. Please will you help me and PLEASE can this not be a battle; can we work together?”. “Well that would make my job a lot easier” he replied. He was calm and professional.
I took some risks. The biggest was admitting that I wanted Peter’s current package to be reduced eventually. I explained that he was becoming more unsettled, more unstable and I was expecting his specialist placement to achieve the opposite effect. I was expecting this school to help him to recover (from his breakdown that had led to a psychiatric admission age 9), to feel stable enough to manage more transitions so that he could at least come home every other weekend.
Given my (justified) fear that the LA team could use his current instability as a reason to ‘review his needs’ and remove a load of his support using some phoney argument, this was a gamble. It really was a judgement call, as, suggesting he could manage with less support in the future could have been misconstrued as an argument to reduce it now, perhaps.
I took the leap but I did, for my own sanity, follow my insitncts to get some professional help with his EHCP and an up-to-date private psychiatrist report. This helped me to be brave in moments of terrible fear and panic.
‘The man from the LA’ seemed reasonable, took advice from his colleagues who had been previously involved with Peter and seemed to be being pretty open with me. However, he gave an adamant ‘no, not for Peter’ to a different school that I wanted to approach. I decided to visit the school (and was open about this) but not to see his views as as obstructive (this school is VERY expensive… easy to be paranoid about the motives on this one!). I went with his ideas for looking for other schools as well without viewing them as some devious plan. Easier said than done.
The man from the LA came to a meeting at the school that wasn’t working. He remained calm and objective in the face of diabolical behaviour from the three school managers. Really, really, diabolical behaviour. He sat with me after the meeting and had brought with him a list of schools that he thought may be useful. I had also stumbled across one of these. It was closer, had a more appropriate peer group and better Mental Health Support. We agreed that was probably the best option. Better (for Peter) in fact than the very expensive one I had initially wanted and visited.
Two days later in a phone call he mentioned how well I had conducted myself in that awful bullying meeting. That mattered a lot. Even the most confident looking parents can be horribly under-confident after years of abuse from people in education.
We pursued the school on his list that we both thought was the best option together. He chased on Peter’s behalf, negotiated and kept us informed. After 7 weeks they let us down. I was utterly devastated and tried to understand their point of view. The man from the LA was really very cross on Peter’s behalf. I liked that a lot.
Over Christmas we spent nearly 3 hours trawling the internet, looking for schools together that might be suitable. A soul destroying activity that I had done 20 months earlier, sobbing and completely alone after repeatedly asking the LA to help. We found two. One was ‘the very expensive one’ I had previously visited. The man from the LA agreed to send papers to both schools.
I visited the other school and after a rocky start, and with support from the Rosie and Jo’s mum, I allowed myself to believe that it might be OK. I asked the man from the LA to consider this one as our first choice. He had an informal conversation with someone from the Funding Committee on Peter’s behalf to let them know. Their response was as follows:
- can he go to a local day school with a totally different peer group (and none of the residential provision that has been evidenced repeatedly)? and
- can social services carry out a (third) safeguarding review ?
Nice. Now I know that the HT at the day school has integrity, authority and will quite simply tell the LA if he feels that his school can’t meet a child’s needs. Since he can’t magic a different peer group and a residential element to his provision I imagine that this will be straight forward. Also, the LA had tried and failed to send Peter to this school 18 months earlier this very same LA committee had agreed that this wasn’t appropriate. Still hey? Why not try again, no harm… is there?
Secondly, What on EARTH was the social worker going to do. If she was to support them in their mission to remove the provision, that they themselves had agreed to 18 months earlier, and that one of the LA ‘henchmen’ had tried and failed to remove 9 months earlier, she would need to do the following:
- Decide that 4 consultant psychiatrists from 4 separate counties carrying out separate assessments over many years (the most recent being 4 months earlier)… were wrong about psychiatric need…..
- Decide that the two previous Social Services assessments, that concluded that there were no parenting factors that had led to his level of need, were wrong….
- Decide that there was, after all a social care need that had not previously been identified that could only be met by residential provision paid for by Social Care….
What a crazy waste of Social Care money and more of Peter’s precious childhood.
So we got to meet a third Social Worker. She was lovely. She was supportive, carried out her assessment and concluded that “This assessment has clearly evidenced that the presenting needs of Peter are not attributed to the care that parents are providing. What has been identified is a clear level of need for Peter to access specialist…. you get the picture.
The man from the LA continued to support and objectively and professionally make the case for Peter’s needs. He was checking up, chasing ….. he took care to make a case reflective of Peter’s actual needs, he kept in contact with me… he presented Peter’s case to the committee. They had no reason to deny continued funding of specialist residential provision so we were given the green light to start a very long gentle transition to his new school.
We sent a card to the Man from the LA and this was his reply.
Thank you very much for the lovely card I received from you and your family. It is not often the hard work that is done within my team is recognised and myself and the SEN team are very appreciative of the lovely words. Coincidently the Director of Children’s Services visited our team today and it was a true pleasure to share your card and kind words with her, she was very impressed to hear of the hard work that has been done (including your mum) to support you.
I do hope that you have a smooth transition into School and I am sure they will support you to reach your full potential. Please give my regards to your mum and Lily and I know that they will always be there to support you.
Good luck for the future,
Thank You “Man from the LA” I hope you know how much you are appreciated.
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