Croydon Council is trying to save £100,000 from its SEND budget for every teenager currently receiving help from the local authority, under services which it is supposed to provide by law.
Youngsters with SEND – special education needs or disability – are supposed to receive an annual assessment of their education, health and care needs, throughout their full-time education, and up to the age of 25.
But some parents and carers of Croydon SEND teens have recently received letters from the council which effectively invites them to opt out of the service at a crucial stage in their dependents’ lives: just as the youngsters are transferring into Sixth Form or moving on to further and higher education, or employment.
It is estimated that delivering the legally required ECHP – Education, Care and Health Plan – costs the council on average around £10,000 per person per year. With families of SEND 15-year-olds receiving the council’s letter, if they chose to opt out as the council now suggests, that could be at least £100,000 worth of cash savings for the council over a decade.
It is hard to see what benefits there might be for any family of a SEND teen or young person who decide to take up Croydon Council on its less-than-generous opt-out offer.
The letter to parents and carers, which has been seen by Inside Croydon, is sent from the second floor of Fisher’s Folly, from an unnamed functionary within the 0-25 SEND Service. The key passage is saved for the second page.
Under the heading, “Moving into and transferring within further education”, the council states:
“Do you need an EHCP in further education?
“As students increase their independence and are able to focus their learning on specific areas of interest, there should be discussion with teachers as to whether an EHCP is still required. It is possible that [name of teenager] will be able to access education, training or employment in her desired field without the need for an Education, Health and Care Plan…
“For many young people, on transfer to a desired post-16 college course, and [sic] EHCP may not be necessary as support is not required over and above what is ordinarily available to all students…
“If it is agreed that [name of teenager] does not require an EHCP to access their chosen pathway to adulthood, [their] EHCP will be ceased (effective from the end of the academic year…). You will be given further information regarding your appeal rights at the time you are given written notification of the intention to cease [name]’s EHCP.”
Carers and parents who have received these letter have been outraged at the council’s transparent attempt to get out of their legal responsibilities to their teenaged children.
“EHCPs are not a ‘nice to have’ optional extra, for us or for our children,” one angry, and worried, mother told Inside Croydon. “They are vital to helping our youngsters grow and thrive to become useful members of society. EHCPs are a legal duty which the council must provide, they are our children’s statutory rights. And now Croydon Council are trying to get us to sign away their rights for the next 10 years.
“It’s obvious that they are trying whatever ruse they can to save some money by not having to provide services for SEND kids from 15 or 16 years old until they are 25. It’s blatant, and it’s disgusting.
“Some parents of SEND teens have had to fight Croydon Council tooth and nail for most of their kids’ lives just to get the education and care plans that they need and deserve, and which they have a right to. And now the council thinks that they can save a few bob by hoodwinking some parents into signing away those services.
“For all youngsters, going to Sixth Form colleges or university can be a hugely stressful and challenging period of their lives. For the council to try to save some money by removing the support structures for SEND teenagers at this time is unbelievably callous.”
It is not known how many families have been sent these letters, nor how many have responded by opting out of their EHCP. “Even if 10 families sign off on their EHCP this year, that’s £1million that the council thinks they will be saving from their budget over the next 10 years,” the mother said.
“But this is the same council that thought nothing of spending one-third of its budget on hiring expensive lawyers to defend tribunals against parents seeking proper provision for their children. They really have no shame.”
The mother suggested that Croydon Council’s letters, inviting fellow parents to opt out of their EHCP before their charges reach 25, might even be illegal. In Sutton, a parents’ campaign group is considering dragging their council and its SEND service-provider into the High Court for a Judicial Review of its conduct.
Croydon Council’s children’s services department has been under special measures for nearly two years, since it failed an Ofsted inspection in July 2017. The council’s SEND department has been the source of constant criticism from families for its poor standards of care and management, although it has not been subjected to an Ofsted inspection to objectively test its performance and capabilities for more than five years.
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