Yesterday I attended the conference ‘Two Years of Education Health and Care Plans: Are we there Yet?’ at the University of Roehampton where the results of a research project on the quality of Education Health and Care plans (EHCP) were presented, and implications for children, families, professionals and policy was discussed.
It was very well attended and many of those there appeared to be from schools from neighbouring Local Authorities. Though the team are researching the quality of different parts of the EHCPs submitted, yesterday only focussed on parts A and parts E as well as a broad overview of the responses given in a survey of professionals.
The overarching message I received from the survey results, was that professionals felt the system was overly bureaucratic and time consuming offering very little improvement over the old system, with the exception only that the process was more child and family centred and included their voices, which was seen as a positive.
What I found interesting however, was the aspects of the presentation and the following question and answer session that questioned whether Part A consistently reflected authentic child voice. It was found that some Part As were written in the first person, and some where not, but that how it was written was not necessary reflective of whether or not the child had actually voiced those opinions. It was highlighted in particular that there was very little mention in each Part A, of how that child’s voice was obtained, especially where subsequent reading of the child’s EHCP made it clear a child would have found it difficult to articulate their voice unsupported and without interpretation.
One of the attendees explained that in her Local Authority, they recommend that the section A is split into two parts ‘My Story’ and ‘Our Story’ to enable a differentiation between the voice of the child from their family. However, I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the suggestion that this needs to be unpicked in this way and that Part As might be variable in child voice authenticity. I was also unsure why this is an area that even needs to be researched like this, unless of course we are prepared to first define voice, and we are prepared to explain in detail why a child’s voice needs to be separated from their parents for educational and budgetary decisions when that child has SEND when we do not require this of their non-SEND peers.
I was also perturbed recently to see in one of the firsts line in the Council for Disabled Children’s Examples of Good Practice Document it states:
So the questions I came away with are:
- Is a good way of gleaning a child’s voice by way of asking a list of predetermined questions set by someone who sees them on occasionally and with whom they have a formal relationship?
- Is it good practice that the child would be expected to produce this voice on demand according to a professional’s school visit schedule?
- Is it good that where a child has trouble expressing their wishes or is unaware of the potential consequences of using certain language terms that they should have their voice interpreted by a relative stranger?
- Do the child’s actual concrete words carry more weight than evidence of a meaning contra to those?
- Why does a child’s voice have to be separated from their parents to determine what provision they should receive, when this isn’t a requirement for their non-SEND siblings and peers?
- Can a child’s authentic voice truly ever be separated from the family voice, even if the child is spoken to outside the home by a non family professional?
- Why must a methodology for gleaning child’s voice be explicitly written?
- Isn’t it a given that the child’s voice regardless of whether they or their parents write it, will have been created through the ongoing dialogue within the home, through night time chats about worries, long car journeys about friendships, experiences and observations of different environments, understanding of resources, support and accessibility locally and at home?
- Why might the state want to remove a disabled child’s access to parental advocacy and steerage when they are presumably happy for their non-disabled peers to receive this?
- And finally (and I expect controversially), with ever increasing incentives for Local Authorities to cut provision, what is to stop vulnerable children separated from their parents, being exploited to meet budgetary targets?
It would be unfair and unwise to suggest categorically that a child or young person should not or cannot give their views outside of their parents presence. In particular as Young People enter their teenage years and start their journey towards independence many will want to and this should be respected.
However, why must we start from the very premise that Part A may not be authentic, or that a child must be interviewed by an outsider as the only way to get their true thoughts?
And finally, why, as the people who have the ultimate responsibility in law for both causing their children to receive an education, and looking after their children’s wellbeing and health, is it not assumed and respected automatically, that it should be parents and not the state, who scaffold that child’s voice until they can be understood independently and safely?