Authentic Voice and EHCPs

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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:

Capture

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?

And:

  • 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?

 

 

 

 

 

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18 thoughts on “Authentic Voice and EHCPs

  1. As someone who’s LA told me to get the school to capture my child’s voice for Section A (we co-produced a video and a now defunct wiki BTW) I 100% agree with this final question…

    “And finally, why…. 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?”

    Total disregard of parental expertise to suggest otherwise.

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    1. Yes, I agree. I’ve spent far less time worrying about what is in section A since the penny dropped that I don’t think anyone ‘important’ (ie those sitting on provision panels) read them and actually hold them high as a good authority on the child…

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      1. What concerns me though Steph is that its written down and whilst it may not be enforceable it can still be read and interpreted in a particular way ie pushy parent undermining their child’s voice. It could just add to an already negative discourse regarding SEND parents.

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  2. When we received our draft plan, what was written under the child’s voice was not what my daughter had said. It seemed that the LA felt pressured to put something in whereas what they should have written was the truth which in our case was something like “(name) said she wasn’t bothered”. This is where the family voice becomes important because, as you say, we have months or even years of ongoing dialogue with our child about life, friends, school etc. We also know how they communicate. So we may know that our child will not cooperate with strangers and may say no just to end the conversation. The latter is particularly prevalent with autistic people. Also, as well meaning as some professionals may be, their air of authority can deter a young person from opening up particularly if that child or young person has been traumatised by the schooling system or has demand avoidant issues. As for separating the child and family voice, I am concerned about this not least because why are they separating our voices? What’s the reasoning behind this? My authority does this and I admit to feeling threatened by it because obviously if your child says to a professional “I don’t want to go to school” and then you explain what you and your child want, you can come across as a pushy parent who is overriding their views. What many professionals don’t appreciate however is the expertise of the parent in realising that the child’s response to professionals is not always true.

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  3. This reads better than what I’ve said above …if your child says to a professional “I don’t want to go to school” and you, as a parent, write something different, you can come across as a pushy parent who is overriding their views. Getting the whole context behind child’s comment is what is important which is why its critical that the family get to share their understanding of their own child.

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  4. I think the point that we don’t tend to take the opinions and thoughts of a non-SEND child in isolation is a good one. Children with SEND often have a different view of the world, and more struggles with expressing themselves. It’s as if professionals are starting for the suspicious position of believing parents are in to some way better their own position in life, rather than to improve the future of their child. Frustrating.

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  5. When my son had his EHCP done it was very much his voice – in fact he seemed to organise the whole process as he’d had some training in it.
    We are just about to start the process for my daughter and I feel the best way for her to get her voice heard is if she is helped not just by ourselves, but by carers who know her well.
    I agree I would be annoyed if a relative stranger did it.
    Definite food for thought here.

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  6. As a teacher, I have always filled in part A with the child. I ask them questions that they can answer like my friends think I am _______. I am a good friend because……….
    I write their answers in the first person, but make sure they are portrayed accurately.

    However, I believe the only people interested in this are the parents and the next teacher!

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    1. I think you are being somewhat naive to think that these questions are not loaded – especially for a child with an ASD diagnosis. My friends think … how the hell do I know what they think (said to parent) but make an ‘approriate’ expected response … I am a good friend because … again, known expected response despite not having a working knowledge of what constitutes a good or bad friend (parents pick up the pieces). Then the teachers doubts the diagnosis – are you sure they have an ASD?

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  7. My son’s AR is due. His SALT didn’t say she wanted to collect his views. Instead she encouraged him to produce a PowerPoint that was supposed to be anonymised on his views as how not having a diagnosis or having a disgnosis impacted on support. He can’t answer this. She encouraged him to write that no diagnosis is necessary. She then moved on to get him to write that he had ‘lost social skills’ because he had not been in school (placement failed 3 years ago) and that he did not want to receive support ( from SALT OT and counselling) specified in his EHCP. He only got support following SOS!SEN starting JR proceedings. But any mention of this was dismissed as ‘mum’ telling him what to write because ‘she has the hate for the LA’. He was allowed to keep mention in because he knew who SOS!SEN were when quizzed. Parents were told it was a ‘shame’ that we had influenced what he wrote and it wasn’t all his own words. She then retrospectively asked for permission to submit the PP as views to AR. NO.

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