What we told MPs at party conference

Why it’s so important to write ‘disabled children’ into the Children and Families Bill

Photo of Laura Courtney, Campaign Manager at EDCM

Today’s blog post is written by Laura Courtney, Campaign Manager at the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign (EDCM). EDCM is run by Contact a Family, the Council for Disabled Children, Mencap and the Special Education Consortium. It is hosted by the Council for Disabled Children.

EDCM is back from party conference. Spurred on by one thousand EDCM supporters emails to MPs, we braved monsoons, dodged throngs of protesters dressed as bees, and grabbed the attention of every Minister, MP, Peer, Councillor and party member we could get our hands on. Our aim was simple: to explain to each of the three main political parties why it is so important to write ‘disabled children’ into the Children and Families Bill.

The main question that the politicians we met were keen to discuss was: ‘How do we make the system simpler, so parents and young people don’t have to fight to get what they need?’

Well – what does makes the system simpler? Parents, young people and professionals tell us this: They need a clear framework which helps everyone to understand their role and to have a stake in success.

So, we want to make sure that all health, social care and education commissioners and practitioners understand that the Children and Families Bill relates to them and can help them to build a joint approach.Children have needs in relation to accessing education, but they have rights as disabled children that are much broader...including the right to social care services and short breaks.

Even more importantly, we want to make sure that parents and young people can clearly see how services should work together to meet their needs.

For that reason, it MUST be clear that this Bill relates to children because they are disabled, as well as because they have a special educational need.

Children have special educational needs in relation to accessing education, but they have rights as disabled children that are much, much broader. These include the right to an assessment for social care services, rights to reasonable adjustments and access to universal services under the Equality Act, the right to sufficient local childcare and to short breaks, the list goes on and on.

Commissioners and practitioners understand local SEN in relationship to education commissioning, but when they are commissioning for health and social care, they do so for disabled children.

This Children and Families Bill presents an historic opportunity to bring these two sets of rights and processes together. There is no need for an extra price tag, it is about making the law clearer for those who use it.

Young person colouring

EDCM is concerned by the possibility of the Bill only relating to education

We are very afraid of the unintended consequences that will occur if the Bill appears only to relate to accessing education. These could make the divisions between health, social and education even stronger, and cause further confusion on the ground. Parents and young people tell us that, when services are confused, the battles get harder and they lose vital support.

At the Party Conferences, MPs, Peers, Councillors and members of all parties quickly understood where EDCM was coming from, and promised to speak out in Parliament and in their local areas on our behalf. We very much hope this means they will help us to work with Edward Timpson MP and the Department for Education to make this simple but crucial improvement to the Bill.

We welcome your thoughts on Laura’s blog  Please leave a comment below and Laura or someone in the EDCM team will get back to you. All comments are moderated and must obey our house rules. Thanks!

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5 Comments on “What we told MPs at party conference”

  1. Well done and thank you for this work

  2. The Green Paper and the Bill are welcome in so far as they are looking at radical reform of a system that is no longer fit for purpose – as demonstrated in countless complaints from parents and a long line of official reports, largely ignored till now.

    But although many of the proposals seem attractive, it is far from clear how they are going to be implemented across the country at a time when there is no money and when decision making is devolved to schools and what is left of local government.

    How will this Bill address the intractable obstacle of the post-code lottery which results in gross injustices and inequalities for many children and families? How will the NHS be brought on board when it has no statutory obligation to do so – look at the problems of legislating for integrated health and social care for the elderly!

    EDCM was needed because ECM overlooked disabled children. But by focusing on SenD and abolishing School Action, this Bill abandons under-achieving children who are now on school SEN registers, some of whom will have needs which require more resources, including a statement. In the absence of a lobby as powerful as those for children with autism or dyslexia, who will speak for these children, many of whom come from the poorest sections of society? And what about the government’s commitent to ‘end the bias to inclusion’?

    The Bill is now receiving pre-legisation scrutiny by the House of Commons Select Committee on Education but its terms of reference seem very narrow .Will EDCM now brief parents to educate their MPs about their concerns?

    Finally, please remind the government of their commitments to the the rights of children with disabilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for which the UK is accountable in international law.

  3. Jayne Stevens says:

    As a parent forum supporting families with disabled children we were pleased to be invited along to a SEND conference on Friday in Birmingham bringing together key partners from Dept of Education, Health and the CDC too…. I presented as a parent but taking into account other parent experiences.

    The comments made by Prof Mittler were certainly included and we share the same concerns that unless disabled children (with SEN or not) are included in all plans and defined accurately then there will be no reason for them to be included in local planning.

    What I found worrying in my collection of information prior to my presentation was the lack of data collected nationally on disability – this was highlighted by the Institute of Education who call for more robust data gathering.

    The EDCM campaigns are very supportive especially the ones involving writing to MPs but it may be worth noting that local MPs are not always in the right place to take the matter to Parliament (some rules about front bench/back bench arrangements which I will have to investigate further) and it would be useful for parents to understand how they can ensure their message (or indeed email) gets to the person that makes the most difference. Some of our local authorities have signed up to the EDCM charter too.

    Thank you Prof Mittler for bringing up the message of UN Convention – if we could all work like they do in Sweden where disability rights are seen equally rather than a right to be challenged we would be in a much happier place as our children grow up.


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