Parents in North East Lincolnshire face a humiliating set of hoops to jump through before they can get a special educational needs diagnosis, say critics of a new pathway.
The local authority’s cabinet approved the new proposal which replaces a previous pathway withdrawn just a year into action after parents said it was “failing” young people.
Council leaders last night praised the plans for giving children one point of entry and bringing together a “previously fragmented” system.
The old system was said to be difficult, fragmented and caused delays to diagnoses, with the number of referrals from the council dropping as parents opted to go elsewhere.
The new system aims to provide a central point of contact for parents who will guide them through the process and develop a support plan, but parents say it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem because it is too long and blocks them from seeing a GP directly.
Councillor Ian Lindley, Portfolio Holder for Children, Education and Young People, who has worked on both this and the previous pathway, told his fellow members that “extensive consultation” had taken place.
He said the pathway was used in other areas as “best practice” and the council had not “reinvented the wheel”.
“There is a strong commitment to get this right,” he said.
However, Councillor Ian Barfield accused the councillors of “re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” and not listening to parents.
“What this pathway does, is put a non-medical professional in the way of a parent getting a diagnosis from a medical professional about whether the child has autism or not,” he said.
He believed councillors would save money by allowing parents to go direct to GPs.
Speaking following the meeting, Councillor Barfield, who himself raised a son with autism, said the new pathway forced parents to jump through a series of hoops set by council workers.
“They can’t go to their GP and say I believe my child has a problem and get a direct referral to have that child diagnosed.
“That’s not available to them under this pathway that’s taken away completely. And that’s the major problem.
“What that means for parents is probably the humiliation of being sent on parenting courses, and other courses, when they may well have other children who are no problem at all.
“Once they’ve completed those they then have what some people would consider a further humiliation of social services being involved in the family, which is something that a lot of people don’t like before they can get to the stage where the child can be diagnosed.”
He said a lack of diagnoses meant children with special educational needs could not be protected under the Disabilities Act, putting them at risk of being excluded from local schools due to the impact on their behaviour.
“If you suspect there’s a problem and you can’t get a quick diagnosis, the chances are your child will be out of school. And once they’re out of school, there’s very little provision, and the outlook for them for the rest of their life is very poor,” he said.
Cora Leeson, who leads the Special Educational Needs in North East Lincolnshire group and is the mother of an autistic teenager, was cynical of the “best practice” claim, indicating that just because it worked elsewhere did not necessarily mean it would in North East Lincolnshire.
She disagreed that extensive consultation had taken place as claimed and added that parents were “on strike”.
“Our dissatisfaction and anger with the council knows no bounds,” she said.
Council officers told members that GPs supported the new pathway, especially as some “felt they didn’t have sufficient information to make diagnoses themselves.”
Councillor Barfield plans to call the decision in to a future scrutiny committee meeting.
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