Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) require a different kind of support when it comes to their educational journey, and their safeguarding needs differ accordingly, too. Usually, the SEN coordinator or ‘SENCO’ in the school or nursery can help extend such support. Additionally, local councils or the Information, Advice and Support (IAS) Service can also offer advice about SEND.
By definition, the term special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) encompasses children who have disabilities or additional needs. These can be referred to as “additional learning needs” or “additional support for learning” in different contexts. Schools and educational institutions are required to make provisions for these needs to level the playing field for them.
To add to the usual need for special provisions, recently, it’s come to notice that children with disabilities are at risk in the educational setting. As the Lead Panel Member from the investigation panel, Dr Susan Tranter, said, “Children with disabilities and complex health needs are some of the most vulnerable in our society but they are too often overlooked and forgotten.”
The first step to accommodate the needs of children with disabilities is to understand the ways in which they are vulnerable. Some children are vulnerable because of communication barriers: they may not be able to explain the series of events or express their feelings accurately. Such limitations require personalised attention and care for children. They may not have developed a vocabulary for discomfort or saying “no” yet. So they need to feel empowered enough to express that, as well as be equipped with the words to express the same.
Secondly, and very often, children do not understand or fully grasp if they are being abused. They may misunderstand the signs of abuse. Not only that, all these threats get compounded because children with SEND may be dependent on adults for their care. Such dependency can range from intimate care that can be isolating to
It is important that educators and other adults working with children with SEND are aware of these safety threats and are able to identify these threats, while also making additional provisions for the needs of the children.
In England, the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health have issued the Special educational needs and disability code of practice for mainstream schools to cater to the needs of children and young people with SEND. It provides detailed responses and action plans for various situations in the form of statutory guidance on duties, policies and procedures relating to Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014.
Particularly in the education and training settings, the guidance provides a recommended approach to identify students with SEN and introduces a coordinated assessment process and the 0-25 Education, Health and Care plan (EHC plan). One of the most remarkable highlights of this code is the emphasis it places on ensuring that children and their parents are able to participate in discussions and decisions about their individual support and about local provision.
Similarly, in Scotland, the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 makes provision for children and young people who have additional support needs (ASN), which includes — but is not limited to — children who have learning disabilities or difficulties, are young carers, are on the child protection register, or have English as a second language. It truly attempts to encompass all children and young people who may be in need of additional support or guidance. Schools in Scotland should also follow the statutory guidance Supporting children’s learning Scottish Government, 2017).
It is also highlighted that schools must designate a qualified teacher to be the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO). This person will be responsible for the coordination of provisions for students with SEND. The SENCO should also provide guidance to colleagues, liaise with parents and carers and act as a key point of contact for external agencies, including health and social care. The SENCO, in a way, is an advocate for children with disabilities.
With the added vulnerabilities, naturally, children with SEND are prone to safeguarding issues. In case a safeguarding concern is raised, SENCOs and nominated child protection leads should work together. In a similar vein, the SENCO may be required to act as the lead practitioner for multi-agency early help assessments.
One of the most important ways of making the educational journey truly accessible for children with SEND is by personalising their journeys and experience. Children will often have highlighted individualised needs to be able to learn and study in the same way as their peers so additional support should be shared in accordance with their needs.
Contact is one of the charities in the UK working to support parents when children and young people need more support than others to achieve their full learning potential.
Angie Fenn, Contact’s helpline manager shares, “Some children and young people will need more support than others to get as much as they can from education. They might need extra help because they have difficulty reading, understanding or talking for example. Or they might also find it hard to manage their emotions or have physical disabilities. In early years settings, schools and colleges have legal duties to support children who have difficulty learning and to treat children fairly. However, some parents may not be familiar with the process or know what support can be put in place.”
Contact is helping such families by empowering them with the right information at the right time, signposting them to tangible resources as well as training practitioners working with children with SEND. “We have lots of educational information and resources for families on our website. Our education experts on our freephone helpline can also help parents understand the special education systems in the UK and answer parent questions about education for their child including an introduction to special needs, Education, Health and Care plans and assessments, attendance and medical needs and discrimination. Parent carers may also like to take a look at our top tips for parent carers to help when their child changes schools which aim to help families navigate changes in school like moving from nursery to primary, or junior to secondary, or if they move and have to start school in another area.”
Another organisation that works on the safety and well-being of children with SEND is the Council for Disabled Children. They are an umbrella body for the disabled children's sector with a membership of over 300 voluntary and community organisations and an active network of practitioners that spans education, health and social care. One of the most unique resources made available by them is the Case Law Directory, a digest that provides essential updates on the latest judicial decisions affecting disabled children and young people and those with SEN.