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Services failing children with complex needs as national data ‘not fit for purpose’

Concern has been voiced by the National Children’s Bureau that government and local authority services for children with complex needs are insufficient to cater for a growing number of children and families requiring specialist care.

This worry was detailed in a report released yesterday that said the number of children with complex needs and life limiting conditions had risen by over 50% since 2004, rising from 49,300 to 73,000 children and young people.

The paper, written by Anne Pinney, also warned that the number of children with complex forms of autism had doubled since 2004 – and the real figure could be higher than this as children with the most complex needs are educated in the Independent Special School Sector, which the DfE does not hold detailed data for.

But despite this growing number of children requiring care, services have not been keeping up with need, as Pinney found that the proportion of children with a disability supported by children’s services is steadily falling, and that 41,500 children and young people with a learning disability or autism are currently on waiting lists to see a mental health specialist.

Commenting on the report, Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the council for disabled people, said: “You’d think that because these disabled children are known to health services, social services and education teams, we’d have a good idea of the numbers involved. That simply isn’t the case.

“The national data on disabled children is not fit for purpose: it has gaps, anomalies and inconsistencies, and raises the question how can we plan to meet the needs of these children and their families, when we don’t know what those needs are?”

The LGA also responded to the report’s findings, highlighting how the report should come as more evidence that local authorities need new funding for children’s services to properly provide care for struggling children and families.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People’s Board, said: “Councils were clear with the DfE at the time that implementing the SEND reforms in the Children and Families Bill was significantly underfunded by the government and this has been borne out in reality.”

He added that the transition process from SEND statements to Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) is complex, but councils are doing everything they can within the resources available to make sure children are being supported and getting the help that they need.

“In addition, we believe the DfE's proposed changes to high needs funding will reduce council and school flexibility to make additional funding available where there are rising demands for SEND support, making existing problems even worse,” said Cllr Watts.

This news comes at the same time NICE announced new guidelines to help people who work with children spot and stop abuse or neglect, calling on care staff to make sure children know they have been listened to and encouraging them to use their judgement and following up where required to stamp out abuse.

NICE’s guidelines also urge staff to communicate with their colleagues and other organisations if they have concerns to avoid children and their parents having to repeat difficult conversations.

Speaking about the guidelines, Professor Corinne May-Chahal, a leading researcher in child protection at Lancaster University and chair of the guideline committee, said: “Our awareness of the different forms of child abuse and neglect is developing all the time but it is difficult for professionals to keep track of the best ways to assess abuse and intervene effectively.

“This guideline is important as it will help professionals spot the warning signs and focus on what early help and interventions can be provided.”

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