Briefly, we are now heading to tribunal for the second time in three years. We moved to Suffolk in 2013 (I grew up here but moved away, returning because of my elderly father). We have had an almost continuous battle to get services and provisions for our very complex son who has a primary diagnosis of autism (not from Suffolk)but whose behavioural and mental health and learning issues make his profile considerably more complex. He just about coped through primary school (he was at a very small local primary – only 35 pupils) however when he went to secondary school –the size was too much and he dropped out after less than a term which then resulted in a lost year of education. Our son suffers from serious mental health problems and was self harming and threatening to kill himself. We battled to get help from CAMHS and went through the routine of blame the mother et cetera. Eventually after a huge battle with mental health services we were referred to a child and family psychiatry unit where you stay as a family as in patients for about eight weeks only coming home at weekends. They observed us very thoroughly and provided additional strategies for us to try. At the end of the eight weeks they provided us with a report which completely vindicated us as parents which was a huge relief to me personally as I was also beginning to suffer from depression, feeling that I was somehow to blame for my son’s problems. The report recommended that our son required a 24 hour curriculum – that is to say residential specialist schooling. We quickly identified the school that we wished to send him to, thinking, naïvely that as we had this recommendation from a tier4 psychiatric unit that the council would accept their recommendations and facilitate our son’s education at our choice of provision. We couldn’t have been more wrong!
We were discharged from the unit in July 2017. As a temporary measure our son attended tutoring sessions locally but became increasingly difficult to deal with until they were no longer feasible as the tutors couldn’t cope with his behaviour. His behaviours at home were also deteriorating without the routine of the unit and he was becoming increasingly violent again – violence against me had been a long running problem. We continued to ask the council to place Christopher but heard absolutely nothing and it became very apparent that they were actively keeping him away from education to save money! Eventually we contacted a specialist educational law firm and instructed them to prepare a tribunal as we clearly had a very good case. In the meantime we were continuing to do battle at home and support our son as best we could.
By November we had still heard nothing from the local authority. A violent incident at home resulted in the police being called and this in turn triggered a MASH meeting. Education were ordered to arrange our son’s education without further delay. So, finally in January our son started at specialist provision. In the meantime we progressed with our tribunal as his EHC plan was utterly hopeless. Needless to say the local authority conceded before the date of the tribunal as they had no evidence to support their case.
Fast forward three years and here we are again! Our son is now 16 – he will be 17 in November. His post 16 educational provision should have been arranged by the 31st of March. The local authority have been l, if anything, worse than they were back in 2017. He leaves specialist provision at the end of next week and as yet we have absolutely nothing in place and barely any communication from our education officer (or whatever they call themselves now). Again, we are heading towards tribunal because they have cut swathes of important information from his EHC plan to fit with their intention to provide only the most basic of specialist provision. Our son wanted to go to mainstream college (although this is rather unrealistic) however local colleges have said no as understandably, they feel they cannot meet his considerable needs. Suffolk have therefore conceded that he does need specialist provision but we have yet to hear anything about what that will look like and they have rejected the idea that he needs any form of wraparound care (he could have the best educational provision in the world but if I can’t get him there in the mornings then it’s next to useless)! Don’t even get me started on social care - they don’t want to even consider helping us because, ostensibly, we appear to be a well functioning family without social issues! Anyway, I have phoned around a few of the local specialist providers and they have no record of our son’s name so I draw the conclusion from this that they have failed to consult. (This is not what they have told my sons school.) Yet again, it seems that they are taking the option of no provision for as long as possible to save themselves money.
It goes without saying that the effect of not knowing what is happening in September is having a massively detrimental effect son’s mental health – he spent most of half term in bed in his room refusing to come down at all! We don’t want to return to our old world of self harming, suicide threats, police callouts and running away. It really shouldn’t be so hard to have your child educated, just like every other child in the UK, as is their fundamental right.
So, as we stand at the moment, we are going to tribunal for the second time in three years, we have been failed by multiple agencies of the state and find ourselves wondering what the future actually holds for our young person. It is a terrible worry, we are older parents, he has no siblings and very few relatives, none whom would be able to care for him going forward. Helping him to achieve independence and happiness is the biggest thing in our lives as we are well aware that we will not be around forever and we want to secure his future as best we can.