2023 was another packed year for the Staffordshire Parent-Carer Forum. We started in March with a convivial family day in nature for our members and ended with the popular “Together We Thrive” one-stop-shop event. We also continued our advocacy for children with S.E.N.D. in the county, sharing key input from our members with Ofsted during the re-inspection process.
October 2023: “Together We Thrive”
“The system is extremely complicated. Most of the time, we don’t know what to ask and to whom. That’s why getting everyone in the room was a big win,” says Deb Ryan of the design of the “Together We Thrive” one-stop-shop event the Staffordshire Parents-Carers Forum (S.P.C.F.) held in October 2023. As we approach the end of the year, we look back on the most exciting and important bits of the S.P.C.F.’s year.
Multiple organisations, from the local authority, service providers, social care and the NHS, were on hand to speak to parents and carers and answer their questions. It was many attendees’ first opportunity to put faces to names most often read on official communication. Through presentations and stalls, they saw how the different branches of local authorities, from education to health and social care, work together. In side sessions, Halit Hulusi – head of SEND at Staffordshire County Council spoke about the new approach to ensuring children get the right support before going through an assessment, and Phil Pusey of SCVYS (Staffordshire Council of Voluntary Youth Services) launched the new co-production promise which you can find here: Staffordshire’s Co-production Promise – SCVYS Staffordshire Council of Voluntary Youth Services (staffscvys.org.uk).
In turn, the event provided local authorities and service providers with an opportunity to hear from parents first-hand and to spend precious face-to-face time talking to colleagues in other parts of the system from across the county.
In total, over 350 people attended the free day. Parents and carers mingled with each other, sharing their own families’ experiences and how they have managed to navigate the complex SEND system. Over steaming cups of tea and biscuits, a real feeling of community inhabited the room. “It’s good to take the time out to think about my child and their needs and to be able to ask an expert directly,” someone explained. “And to have all these people in one place makes the whole thing even more valuable.”
“When is the next one?” most attendees asked as they were leaving, demonstrating the need and demand for such events. SPCF is already working on a date for 2024. In the meantime, we are putting together an easy-to-use directory to facilitate access to the Staffordshire SEND services.
April 2023: Involvement in the OFSTED re-inspection process
In April 2023, the S.P.C.F. took part in the formal review meeting carried out by the Department for Education on progress since the reinspection of Staffordshire’s S.E.N.D. services, carried out in early 2022. The re-inspection followed the poor results of the full review of SEND services which Ofsted conducted in 2019.
Before the 1-year review meeting, the S.P.C.F. surveyed its members, the second time we had done so after a baseline survey in January 2022. The first survey allowed us to feed parent/carer voices back into the Ofsted re-inspection visit. For the second one, we kept questions the same to allow us to see changes over time. We plan to do this every year – so look out for the 2024 one! In 2023, we got nearly 150 responses – double the responses from last year.
We fed back the results to the local authority directly and continue to do so in all of our engagement with them. The key messages from the survey which we shared with Ofsted in April were:
- Despite a lot of hard work at local authority level to make changes, we’re still not seeing them translate into positive impact for families and children/young people.
- ECHP processes (needs assessments, reviews and implementation) are still a massive issue for parents. The problems include poor timeliness, very limited responsiveness (not reacting to a need or being fast enough when a need has been identified) and a lack of co-production. (Although no one used the word, they felt they weren’t being consulted properly by schools or the system.)
- Parents/carers still often don’t feel listened to or believed. (Some of the on-the-record messages about parent blaming from the political leadership of SCC have created an atmosphere of distrust.)
- Most don’t have a relationship with a key worker and feel that they don’t have a clear line into the different services. Which means they get lost in the system.
- Most feel that the different services aren’t joined up or coordinated, which makes it even harder to access. They report that even different bits of the same service often give different advice/guidance.
- Parents/carers feel a clear lack of experience, expertise, time and resources in all parts of the system. And this was having a direct negative impact on meeting their child’s needs.
We also said to the Ofsted:
- That we think that the local authority is going in the right direction with the changes they are making and proposing.
- The early consultation with parents (e.g. on specialist provision) is welcome and we (parents) would like more of that.
- But there’s a lot of distrust and bad experiences which will take time and effort to overcome.
- And parents need to see and feel the changes and understand better what’s happening and why, before we see the relationships turned round.
March 2023: Members’ Family Day
On 26 March, our members came together at the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Wolseley Centre for a day of bug hunting, den and bird-feeder building and clay art out in the open. It was a lovely Sunday where both parents and children made new friends and enjoyed the beauty of Staffordshire nature. The weather was with us and the rain stayed away!
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