Some families in Surrey “do not feel listened to” and are receiving “inconsistent” support for children with additional needs or disabilities, according to a new report.
Ofsted and Care Quality Commission inspectors said families shared “powerful examples of not feeling listened to and feeling cut out of how decisions are made about their child or young person”.
An inspection into services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Surrey took place in September.
Surrey’s county council and two integrated care boards are responsible as a partnership for planning and commissioning services for children and young people with SEND in the county.
Inspectors said: “Children and young people with SEND have variable experiences in Surrey.
“Leaders have identified the areas that they need to improve.
“They have put in place important actions that are starting to make a difference.
“However, the overall pace is too slow and not yet improving outcomes for many children and young people.”
The inspection looks at services from the point of view of the children and families using it, talking to those impacted as well as those working with them including teachers.
Across Surrey, 28,348 children and young people receive SEN support in school, and 12,925 have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
While inspectors said leaders had identified weaknesses, they said many parents, carers and children and young people with SEND had “not yet felt the impact” of improvements being made.
Inspectors highlighted four areas for improvement for the partnership, including improving communications from case officers and practitioners to families to ensure they felt “fully involved in the journey with their child or young person”.
They also said improvements needed in line with a recovery plan already in place should be continued in reducing wait times for health assessments, and improving the timeliness of needs assessments and education, health and care plans.
Surrey County Council’s cabinet member for children and families, lifelong learning, Councillor Clare Curran, said she thought the report delivered a “fair reflection” of services in Surrey.
She told the LDRS: “We have made some progress, but we know there’s an awful lot more still to do.”
The county council’s stated ambition is “no one left behind” in Surrey, which Cllr Curran said continued to be a priority for the authority, as was the most vulnerable and the disadvantaged in society getting the support and the services they needed.
In the last inspection of Surrey County Council’s children’s services, Ofsted said the service as a whole required improvement but noted an improvement overall since its previous “inadequate” inspection in 2018.
Cllr Curran added: “I know that the services that we’re providing at the moment as a partnership aren’t where we want them to be, many families are still waiting too long.”
She also acknowledged the “stress, the distress and the anger that many families feel”.
With an end-to-end review of SEND services currently underway at the council, Cllr Curran added: “We do have a plan in place and this has been one of my real priorities since I came into role, that we are going to make improvements in this area.
“It wouldn’t be good enough for my child, and isn’t good enough for anybody else’s.”
The report said inspectors heard “powerful examples” of families not feeling listened to and “feeling cut out of how decisions are made about their child or young person”.
With some children and young people receiving time limited services, particularly in health, and frequent staff changes in social care, inspectors said some parents and carers “felt ‘bounced about’ and confused” about the help on offer.
Inspectors said: “In this context, many parents and carers find it hard to build trusting relationships with professionals.
“To them, services appear disjointed and uncaring.”
Parents and carers from marginalised groups were highlighted by inspectors as one group in particular who did know know about services to help “understand and navigate the complex system with its very many projects and schemes”.
The report also highlighted parents and carers who “felt they had no other option” than to remove their child from education settings because their needs had not been identified or met effectively.
Inspectors said: “In these situations, children and young people often spend extended periods of time out of education while waiting for their needs to be identified.
“While education and health professionals are now addressing this issue, there are often further delays in arranging and agreeing provision which is suitable to meet these needs.”
This meant children were spending too long out of education and were not well prepared for their next steps, according to inspectors.
The report also highlighted families reaching “crisis point” before returning to full-time education outside of mainstream schools, because despite professionals identifying their needs carefully, the provision is “too often” put in place after too long a wait.
Inspectors also said: “Too often, children and young people with SEND and their families do not feel valued or visible in their communities.
“Many children and young people are unable to access mainstream after-school and holiday clubs, and these are not routinely adapted to their needs.”
They said waiting lists for short breaks programmes were too long to access and that older children felt there was “a lack of support and suitable opportunities for them, such as safe spaces or groups outside of education”.
With another inspection due within around three years, inspectors pointed to “shining beacons” at the partnership, including an All Age Autism Strategy, and “ambition” for children and young people with SEND in Surrey.
The report said: “Some children and young people with SEND and their families report that their experience of using services and of practitioners supporting them has improved.
“These parents and carers feel listened to and say that professionals work with them well.”
Clare Stone, ICS director of multi-professional leadership and chief nursing officer for Surrey Heartlands ICB, said: “Health partners, like those in education and social care are facing the difficulties associated with rising demand and increased complexity of need, set within the challenging context of finite resources.”
She said working better together with children, families and partners would allow more consistent, sustainable and affordable services, that are affordable to the integrated care system.
Tracey Faraday-Drake, director for children and young people for NHS Frimley said: “As a partnership, we reaffirm our total and unwavering commitment to doing all we can to deliver improvements and reach a place where all these children and young people have positive experiences and outcomes.”
Cllr Curran said it was important to look at Surrey in a national context, with more families requesting assessment for their children and the number of education, health and care plans nationally growing.