Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The CDC responds: "the new reforms mark a real opportunity for change" but where's the evidence?

We have been posting about our attempts to engage the Government's Strategic Reform Partner, the Council for Disabled Children, in open discussion about the evidence supporting the Children and Families Act (CFA).

You may remember that their Director, Christine Lenehan, had welcomed the CFA calling it an "important step to getting better outcomes for children and young people".

We wrote to Ms Lenehan about this in March asking her if she had any evidence to support this statement. We received a reply on 28 July. You can read more about this here and here.

We wrote back to Ms Lenehan as it seemed to us that she has not yet answered our question which related solely to the specific comments made welcoming these reforms. You can read our letter here.

Ms Lenehan has promptly replied to this letter. Her response can be read here. Ms Lenehan helpfully points out the reforms that the CDC has "championed" namely:

1.The 0-25 approach.

2. A joined up approach with parents, children and young people at the heart of the process, e.g. the Section 19 principles and the new legal duties on health.

3.The introduction of the local offer.

Ms Lenehan also notes the context of the reforms and one of the failures of the previous system, i.e. poor multi-agency working.  She concludes:

"We believe therefore that the new reforms mark a real opportunity for change and through our networks and partnerships we will be challenging government to ensure they deliver."

We believe this is a very long way from the 'root and branch' reform of the system promised at the start of the process and we note the continued failure to supply examples of any evidence to support the reforms.

We have written back to Ms Lenehan and you can read our letter here. The main points of our letter are:

1. We see no evidence that the changes introduced by the CFA will make any discernible difference to most of the day to day struggles parents face. SEN issues still remain sidelined and the language of 'needs' and 'support' rather than equality and rights still runs through the legal framework. There has been no attempt to change the discourse or explore in any depth the reasons why the previous system was failing. This is a missed opportunity to create fundamental change.

2. Many of the most common problems faced by parents, including a lack of available provision, unlawful blanket LA policies, failure to specify and quantify etc remain untackled with parents left to police the system.

3. There has been no genuine attempt to gather evidence from pilots and use it to inform reform.

4. Parents have been faced with rhetoric rather than evidence. For example, the Government recently claimed that a report from its evaluators proved that parents felt "more supported than ever" and that "the measures are already making a real difference to lives of children, young people and families", despite the fact that the report authors appear to draw no such conclusions, noting instead that the "process appeared highly variable from case to case" with the result that :

"It was difficult to draw firm conclusions from the qualitative research findings due to the very wide variety of experiences reported by participants, and the complex web of factors influencing these experiences".

We thank Ms Lenehan for engaging with us as we think transparency and open discussion are absolutely essential. For this reason, we see no purpose in attending a private meeting with the CDC and have declined Ms Lenehan's invitation. We have, however, suggested that the CDC hold an open, public meeting about these changes in an attempt to present any evidence supporting the reforms and to engage all those affected by these reforms whose voices (for various reasons) may have thus far been excluded from the development of them. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Chief Executive of the RCSLT declines to discuss our concerns

In July, we posted about a letter we had written to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists' Chief Executive, Kamini Gadhok. You can read our previous post here.

We raised serious concerns about some speech and langauge therapy practices which appear to arise consistently all over the country. We noted that the RCSLT was planning to develop new guidelines in relation to SEN work and we asked for the opportunity to share our views. As far as we are aware, existing SENDIST guidelines do not cover important areas like the common law duty of confidentiality and in many cases assume that a SLT will be acting for a local authority and not the parent.

We have now received a response and Ms Gadhok has confirmed we can publish it on our blog. The letter can be read here.

Ms Gadhok's response is profoundly disappointing and fails to engage with any of the questions we have raised. Further, Ms Gadhok completely ignores our offer to discuss these matters further and says instead:

"The RCSLT will take account of the issues you have raised in the updating and development of RCSLT specific guidance. However we are aware that, whilst we can provide guidance for the speech and language therapy profession, some of the issues you have raised such as data protection need to have a shared understanding across all professions and sectors."

Bizarrely, Ms Gadhok then says:

"For this reason, we hope that you will also contact other relevant organisations as you have already done with the Council for Disabled Children and others."

We think this response is poor. We do not understand what this matter has to do with the Council for Disabled Children but perhaps the RCSLT or the CDC could explain further.

We have written the following email to Ms Gadhok's PA and asked her to re-consider:

Dear X,

Many thanks for passing on this letter. 

We find this response deeply disappointing. Ms Gadhok has effectively ignored all of the points we have raised, including our request for a meeting to discuss these matters. Her letter seems to have conflated the very specific issues raised in relation to the conduct of speech and language therapists with the RCSLT's general role in the CFA reform process. We find this quite baffling. We did not write to Ms Gadhok about the RCSLT's role in the CFA process and we do not see how these issues relate to the CDC.

Ms Gadhok also suggests that we have raised "matters of interest to [us]". However, the points raised should clearly be of concern to the professional body to whom they are addressed. They record poor practices and are supported by the experience of parents and parent groups. To refuse to engage on them at all is neither inclusive nor progressive and it is antithetical to efective [sic] patient engagement. We believe it also, potentially, contradicts one of the RCSLT's core  "strategic objectives" (as stated in your last Annual Report) "to improve access and outcomes for service users". 

We note the comment that the RCSLT will be updating its guidance and we would like to know what the process for doing this will be. Will the RCSLT, for example, be taking legal advice on the guidance it provides? Will it be engaging parents? If so, we would like to be part of this process.

We trust this email will be passed on to Ms Gadhok and we would ask her to reconsider her position on engaging with us. In the meantime, could you confirm that you are happy for us to publish this letter on our blog?"

Ms Gadhok has agreed to our publication of this letter but we have heard nothing more. We intend to pursue this matter further as we think engagement with parents is important even if the issues raised are 'challenging' to those involved and that it is not good enough to push comments like this aside.

We shall keep you posted.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

What is the evidence the Children and Families Act will lead to "improved outcomes for children"?

You may be aware that, four months after writing to the Council for Disabled Children about their Director's statement welcoming the Children and Families Act as as "important step to getting better outcomes for children and young people", we received a reply on 28 July. You can read about this here.

We have now written back to Ms Lenehan as it seemed to us that she has not yet answered our question which related solely to the specific comments made welcoming these reforms. 

Our letter confirms that:

"We asked this question because, unlike politicians who may simply rely on their own political views and rhetoric to support their position, for a body to be a charity, it must remain independent. Thus, if a charity supports a political and legal reform process, it should be able to explain why with reference to clear evidence. Most charities are very judicious about this obligation as the reliance on evidence adds weight to their views, distinguishing their independent conclusions from personally held political views."

You can read our letter here.