Over the last couple of months we’ve seen the vast majority of local authorities in England publish their Local Offer. Basically, Local Offers are websites where information is published about services across education, health and social care for children and young people with SEN and disabilities in the local area. The idea behind them is that families and young people have access to information in one place which means they are better informed and have more control about the support they access.
Sounds great so far doesn’t it? However, I have looked at quite a few Local Offers recently and have still yet to find one that would be particularly useful for a parent of a deaf child. Where the Local Offer has a search box typing in ‘deaf’ tends to either:
- Come up with nothing or very little at all
- List every service known to man under the sun
(Ok, no. 2 is a slight exaggeration) Even if you don’t use a search box function and decide to go through the various menus that exist, it is hard to find any information specific to deafness as services tend not be categorised by type of SEN/disability.
By law, local authorities must consult with parents and young people when developing their Local Offer. How much did they consult with parents of deaf children?
Not much, you might think. Well, thanks to a Freedom of Information request we actually know the answer – 44% of local authorities told us they did not consult with parents of deaf children. Quite often consultation has not been specific to type of disability/SEN but rather a general consultation that may have included parents of deaf children. Families of deaf children are a small group and it could be very easy for their needs to be forgotten if only general consultations are carried out. Only 29% of local authorities consulted directly.
When it comes to consulting with deaf young people local authorities fare even worse with 68% having carried out no consultation with them. And it shows – I can’t imagine many young people being incentivised to explore their area’s Local Offer – they’d probably find flicking through the Oxford English Dictionary more interesting! Information tends to be very dull and far from ‘youth-friendly’ despite the fact they must be accessible to young people by law.
We are worried that money and time has been spent on developing Local Offer websites without proper consultation having taken place. However, most local authorities would probably agree at the moment that their Local Offers are not a finished product and need a lot more development before they become useful to families of deaf children. This development should be informed by feedback from parents and young people. NDCS encourages parents and young people to look at their Local Offer and to submit comments to their local authority. E.g. How easy is it to find information? What services are missing? Local authorities are required to publish (anonymously) comments received from families and respond to them. Additionally, they must continue to consult with parents and young people to review and improve their Local Offer. This tends to be done through parent-carer forums and you can find your local forum here: http://www.nnpcf.org.uk/who-we-are/find-your-local-forum/
We would like central government to do more to hold local authorities to account for having poor local offers or failing to consult properly. Local Offers have the potential to be a valuable tool. However, once again, just like the old system; it comes down to parents and young people to take action. We urge you to get involved!
To download NDCS’s guide for families on Local Offers visit: www.ndcs.org.uk/sen
Martin McLean is the Project Manager of the I-Sign project which aims to improve access to BSL for families of deaf children and is developing case studies on local offers and BSL provision. www.ndcs.org.uk/isign