Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Children and Families Act: "Better outcomes for children"? Where's the evidence?

The Children and Families Bill has become an Act

We have been vocal in raising our concerns about the Bill (see our blog post demanding a moratorium for example). 

We have tried to ask questions about the absence of evidence supporting these reforms and we have persistently requested explanations from those organisations who have been leading the implementation of the reforms on the part of the Government.

We have been deeply disappointed at the lack of response. It appears that many organisations have been unable and/or unwilling to justify their whole-hearted embrace of these reforms. Similarly, there has been precious little in the way of concrete explanation to support the argument that these reforms will improve the lives of disabled children and their families. 

In terms of evidence, there have been multiple Pathfinder pilots but they are not genuine pilot studies as no one has waited for the evidence to be gathered from them before making decisions about what works and what doesn't. Further, considerable reliance has been placed by some organisations on the seemingly welcoming jargon and rhetoric (e.g. the use of terms like 'co-production') which accompanied the Bill when much of this rhetoric has not been translated into binding obligations on the face of the legislation. We already know that LAs do not follow the current law and we cannot see how has the Government improved the rights of children with this new legislation.

The result of this legislative process is chaos. A very brief recent report on BBC South (starts from around 10.56), scratches the surface of this. A Council leader, for example, describes them as "complicated reforms" which are unlikely to "bed in quickly". Compare this to the promise in the Green Paper of a more straightforward, streamlined system which will be easier for parents to navigate.

This a massive problem because making systems more complex, reduces their transparency. It also makes it much harder for parents to know and assert their rights on behalf of (and with) their children. If parents cannot navigate the system, how does this empower them or improve the protection of disabled children's rights?

'Independent Supporters' are not the answer to this as their role is not to challenge local authority decisions. However, the fact that the Government has had to promise £30 million for the creation of 'Independent Supporters' to support local authorities (LAs) in the switch to Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) is testament to the complexity of the system and, no doubt, the panic in local government. These 'supporters' may have little to do with 'championing' parents' cases as they appear to be little more than an information source - see our latest blog post on Independent Supporters'. Of course, whose information is being distributed and for what purpose are questions yet to be answered.

Why the applause?

Yet, despite this, there were organisations who instantly responded to the Bill's passing with a twitter 'yipee'. Why? We thought we would ask them to explain their support. Every time we did, the response was almost universal silence.

The Council for Disabled Children (CDC), who won the commercial tender to become the Department for Education's 'strategic partner' in these reforms, similarly applauded the Bill's passing. The CDC is the umbrella body for the disabled children’s sector in England. It seeks to represent over 120 organisations: details can be found here.

Its Director said:
“The Children’s (sic) and Families Act marks an important step to getting better outcomes for disabled children and young people and (sic) with special educational needs."
We believe much more must be done by those who have supported this legislation to explain the statements they make about its positive potential.

Consequently, we have written to the Council for Disabled Children with a simple question:
"To date we have been unable to find evidence that the Act will improve outcomes for disabled children and children with SEN, and so we would be interested in seeing the evidence you rely on in making this statement, and the underlying associated data."
You can read our letter here.

No comments:

Post a Comment