A group of parent volunteers says it wants to provide “a collective voice” for Lancashire families who have children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The Lancashire Parent Carer Forum (PCF) is designed to represent the interests of children and young adults and help shape the local services on which they and their families rely.
The Department for Education encourages all council areas in the country to work with a PCF. A previous incarnation in Lancashire represented the 21,000 households in the county which have a young person with SEND, until it disbanded in 2017.
The new PCF emerged last year, following a damning report into the provision of SEND services in the Lancashire County Council area. Regulators found that there was “bewilderment” amongst families about how decisions were made about their children and also highlighted the number of children with SEND who had been excluded from secondary school.
There are 93,000 PCF members across the country. In Lancashire, there are currently seven steering group volunteers - but they are keen to increase their number and link with the wider community to gather the views of families.
“There has been some reluctance on the part of parents and carers to get involved,” PCF chair Sam Jones explains.
“Historically, there has been an ‘us and them’ attitude between parents and the authorities in Lancashire. We recognise that we need to change that culture and work together. Our aim is to empower families and champion equality, fairness and support for all.”
“We now need more parents who are interested in becoming involved as representatives of families to work with service providers and meet the needs of Lancashire.
“This role involves meetings with various professionals, so people need to be available between 10am and 2pm on weekdays to attend meetings and share the views of the wider community.”
The group is keen to stress that it is completely independent of the local authority, describing itself as an “equal partner” with the social care, education and NHS organisations whose decisions often help determine the quality of life for children and young people with SEND and their families.
PCF member Clare Carsley is realistic about the resources available to fund services.
“It’s about making sure the money goes into the right areas – so it’s not a case of fighting for your own child’s interests, but listening to that collective voice and seeing how the money is best spent,” she explains.
In the nine months since it was re-established, the Lancashire Parent Carer Forum has heard from families who all have similar tales to tell about their experience of SEND services.
“When we’re talking to parents, we hear the same stories all the time,” Sam says. “For instance, there are issues with transport, short breaks and children with autism not being able to access the children with disabilities social work team.
“We want to meet with parents, collect their views and then represent them and be able to suggest changes which will have a positive effect on the experience families are having.”
But to bring that influence to bear and represent families more widely, the PCF wants to grow and work with more parents. While the group is neither a support service in its own right nor an activist group, it wants to be able to reflect daily life for families with SEND, so that it can improve their situation.
Parents will be trained for the role and will be called upon to contribute to the process of planning of services for anybody up to the age of 25 – based on their own experience and that of others in similar situations.
“We are trying to develop a trusting, respectful working relationship, rather than what has sometimes happened in the past, where angry parents have met with defensive professionals – that’s not helpful dialogue,” Sam says.
“We want to build professional relationships with the authority so that we can challenge in a productive way and really have our voices heard. So far, we have had very positive support from senior management at the council.
The PCF will also be involved in the development of improvement plans for SEND services, ahead of an anticipated re-inspection by regulators later this year.
“It’s about making sure parents and carers are involved in the process,” Gareth Jenkins, Communication and Engagement lead at the Lancashire SEND partnership, says.
“The PCF must be on those working groups which are planning the next steps for services and be involved in those conversations in order to have that influence.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook - Lancashire Parent Carer Forum