We are delighted to announce that Watkins Solicitors are in the process of becoming a dementia-friendly law firm, starting in January 2018. We are now members of the South Gloucestershire and Bristol Dementia Action Alliance, and planning to extend this in Bath where we have recently opened a new office...
Understanding Outsourcing EHC Plans - What Parents Should Know
- AuthorLydia Dunford
It is common knowledge that Local Authorities are struggling to keep up with the timescales and requirements in producing and issuing Education, Health and Care Plans (EHC Plans). What may not be as well known is that a few Local Authorities are outsourcing the production of EHC Plans to external companies.
These outsourcing companies are provided with the professional reports and written contributions to either the draft EHC Plan, or the previous Statement of SEN, to then prepare and return EHC Plans to Local Authorities. These EHC Plans are then issued to parents, most whom are none the wiser that their child’s EHC Plan has spent very little time with the Local Authority responsible for the support and provision their child will receive.
The most apparent reason why Local Authorities are electing to produce EHC Plans in this manner is simple; Local Authorities have strict time scales to comply with when progressing through the EHCP process, and the reality is many Local Authorities simply do not have capacity to produce clear and detailed EHC Plans on time. As a result, parents are being provided with EHC Plans very late in the day, and with large amounts of amendments still necessary to the description of the child or young person’s special educational needs and the provision to meet those needs. The burden then falls to parents to either provide comprehensive responses to draft EHC Plans (all within the 15-day timeframe allocated by Local Authorities), or to prepare an appeal against a final EHC Plan.
In an ideal world parents, should only need to comment on minor alterations to the contents or wording of an EHC Plan, if the Local Authority has been proactive in taking into consideration all the professional reports, written contributions from child or young person and their parents, and relevant information supplied prior to preparing the EHC Plan. In reality, many parents are instead left with an EHC Plan that sometimes requires a complete re-write to provide an accurate and up to date description of the child or young person’s needs and the support they require.
One of the initial concerns about this method of ‘outsourcing’ is the apparent lack of a ‘person centred’ approach the EHCP process promotes. Local Authorities are meant to know and consider the views, wishes and feelings of the child or young person, in addition to their special educational needs when preparing an EHC Plan. It seems unlikely how an external outsourcing company would be able to replicate the same level of understanding, having never met the child or young person and probably never will do so. There is also a potential issue concerning data protection. A large quantity of reports and information on the needs and background of children and young people can be supplied to Local Authorities during the EHCP process. If this information is subsequently passed on to another body, then is there the same level of assurance that this data will remain confidential? Have parents given their consent? It appears that such outsourcing companies are bound to follow guidelines and restrictions when handling EHCP paperwork, but the fact remains that a number of EHC Plans are being prepared by people who have no immediate knowledge or appreciation of child or young person’s special educational needs.
The next question to consider is whether Local Authorities should outsource the production of EHC Plans. Many children and young people can go through the EHCP process without ever meeting their caseworker from the Local Authority, so perhaps there is little material difference in a Local Authority preparing an EHC Plan compared to an external outsourcing company?
The overarching principle remains on Local Authorities to ensure a legally enforceable EHC Plan is issued to parents, an EHC Plan that details all the child or young person’s special educational needs, along with the suitable support to meet all those needs. Some parents may not mind how the EHC Plan gets to them as the finished article, while others may not agree with the principle of outsourcing the production of such a personal and important document as a child or young person’s EHC Plan. The fact remains that the child or young person needs to remain the central focus for each EHC Plan that is planned, drafted and issued.