Worried parents demand answers from ASL helpline

14th August 2015 at 01:00
Calls for help are up by more than a third, Enquire reports

Calls to Scotland's national additional support for learning helpline have rocketed by more than a third in three years, TESS can reveal.

The rise has been attributed to the growing numbers of children with mental health problems and local authorities failing to meet the needs of children entitled to additional support in the classroom because of budget pressures.

Sally Cavers, who manages the Enquire helpline, said that awareness of children's rights and entitlements had also grown, which could explain some of the increase. "Over the past year, the complexity of issues coming to us has definitely increased," she said.

"It's not just about additional support for learning, we're also getting enquiries to do with social care, issues around child and adolescent mental health services, and children who are out of school because of anxiety."

The Enquire helpline has been running for 16 years. In the year to April 2013 it received 1,060 calls, but in the same period in 2014-15 that figure rose to 1,444, an increase of 36 per cent. Last year the service was forced to take on an additional member of staff to cope with the growing demand.

Ms Cavers said: "Undoubtedly the current financial climate means that local authorities are finding it difficult to deliver on their duties and it's these things that come up when people call us.

"When families see reductions in personnel - fewer learning support assistants, speech and language therapists and educational psychologists - it's hard for them not to assume that their child's needs aren't going to be met."

`Widespread' failures

Failures in implementing ASL legislation are "widespread", according to Tam Baillie, Scotland's commissioner for children and young people.

In a letter sent to education secretary Angela Constance last month, Mr Baillie says that "numerous" parents and organisations have contacted his office "troubled by the impacts that cuts in provision are having on the education of their children".

He calls for more funding from central government to improve ASL provision, and for data to be gathered on unmet needs. "We count numbers of children assessed as in need of additional support, but there is no indication of whether appropriate support is being provided," he writes.

The latest figures show that roughly 20 per cent of Scottish schoolchildren require additional support - approximately 140,500 pupils. The vast majority (95 per cent) are educated in mainstream schools; the most common reasons for requiring support are social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Last year, MSPs were warned by the Scottish Children's Services Coalition (SCSC) that education cuts would create a "lost generation" of children with additional support needs.

Falkland House is an independent school with 19 pupils, aged 8-18, who require additional support - about 80 per cent have autism. A residential placement at the school costs pound;79,000 per year.

"We don't get many referrals now from local authorities," said director Stuart Jacobs, who is also a member of the SCSC. "It tends to be parental requests, and quite often they have to go to tribunal before an authority will agree to place the child at the school.

"Parents have to fight harder and it tends to be the children of parents who know where to look who end up coming here - professionals who know their rights and get on the internet. On sports day there are a lot of BMWs in our car park."

The SCSC recently launched a campaign for high-quality, properly resourced child and adolescent mental health services. The organisation highlighted four key concerns, including the shortage of educational psychologists. Only 6 per cent of the mental health budget in Scotland is spent on children.

The education secretary has confirmed that ministers will report to the Scottish Parliament in March about how children's ASN are being met across Scotland, with a particular focus on mental health.

She said: "We fund Enquire so it can provide support to families whose children have additional support needs. Their confidential helpline offers advice and information on a wide range of additional support needs, including mental health, and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure that families get the help they need."

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