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. 

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