SEND IASS - Influencing Change, PACCs input towards recommissioning process


What does a good SEND IASS service look like for Parent Carers in Shropshire’s SEND Community?

SEND Information Advice and Support Services were commissioned nationally to provide free impartial, confidential, and accurate information, advice and support about education, health and social care for children, young people and their parents on matters relating to special educational needs and disability. The provision of information, advice and support should help to promote independence and self-advocacy for children, young people, and parents. Chapter 2 of the SEND Code of Practice sets out the role and activities of an IASS and should be read alongside these standards.

SEND IASS is currently funded by a national grant that is awarded to all Local Authorities to distribute as they see fit. The Citizens Advice Bureau are currently contracted by Shropshire Council to deliver SEND IASS locally. Shropshire Council currently are recommissioning the service as they have a duty to retender the contract after a certain amount of time. PACC have created this document to describe what a good SEND IASS could look like. This has been informed by what families have told us over the years and feedback we have seen shared by both SEND IASS and Shropshire Council. We have captured below some of the key points we have asked Shropshire Council to consider during this process below.

What do families want:

  • A service that is independent of ‘The System’ and able to hold services to account with integrity.
  • A service adequately funded to provide enough staff to deliver a service that requires no more than 48 hours for contact with an officer.
  • A service that provides self-serve information via digital means with alternative formats available (such as telephone assistance or face to face discussions) to ensure they can access the right help at the right time and signposting as appropriate.
  • A service that is well versed and competent in navigating ‘The System’ so they can offer helpful and effective advice and guidance based on accurate and relevant knowledge of Shropshire and SEND, ensuring equity of offer around health and social care support also.
  • Staff and volunteers to be confident in their area of expertise, who listen to families, and who genuinely want to help make a positive difference.
  • To feel listened to, understood, and their feelings and concerns validated.
  • To be offered support at meetings and during challenging times, especially when going through mediation or tribunal.
  • Accessible information and accessible support, without having to click through multiple websites or wait excessive time for people to contact them back.
  • Empathy and care to be shown to them at every step of their journey.
  • Staff to have current and appropriate awareness of the legislation and related guidance to facilitate meaningful discussions and address concerns appropriately.
  • All required training to have been undertaken and updated by those providing direct support to families.
  • Honesty about any barriers to support that may be present, such as challenges with accessing the information, or staff shortages etc.
  • For information to be logged appropriately and used effectively to make a sustainable impact on improving the system for all families as well as their own.
  • A service that delivers the highest quality care and support, focusing on supporting families through challenge.

What would PACC like to see from an IASS service?

  • Using the SEND Local Offer and Healthier Together websites to promote self service across the community (this relies on these websites being accurate and up to date, which they often are not).
  • Providing staff dedicated to supporting families through mediation and tribunals.
  • Providing staff dedicated to offer more soft support and guidance such as initial contact and information sharing, navigation and advice, and signposting.
  • Utilising existing systems in place to signpost to and not ‘fill in the gaps’ themselves, ensuring they offer exactly what is needed by families and that services who already should provide support are being signposted to at the right time.
  • Greater focus on upskilling and informing the SEND Community to promote self-service or community wide information (such as EHCP how to’s, myth busters, workshops etc), including sharing frequently asked questions and top tips regularly.
  • Greater visibility in the community by attending events and information sessions etc, greater connections with schools to provide wider awareness of their services etc.
  • Contractual obligations to gather and feedback data and insights into the SEND Partnership Board that feed into the JSNA and SEND data dashboard.
  • Public publication of Data and Insights on at least an annual basis that reflects the topics and trends of community needs, identified gaps in information or services to support the community, and feedback on activities and actions implemented because of this (such as you said we did approach).
  • A dedicated manager to provide strategic engagement across the SEND Partnership where this is appropriate and to provide dedicated support to the service.

In Summary:

A good and effective SEND IASS service must be able to hold the services, systems, processes, and people to account without the risk of damaging their integrity and trust held within the SEND community. It is essential this service remains outside of the Council or Health internal structures. There is a need for this service to be better connected and to utilise existing services and systems in place, such as the SEND Local Offer for information provision and signposting, referring, and signposting to dedicated  statutory and commissioned services, and engaging with the voluntary sector to promote wider opportunities across Shropshire. It is important that the SEND IASS service knows the Shropshire SEND community and local area well to enable them to support system navigation and signpost appropriately.

Families have increasingly been telling us their concerns about the lack of care and empathy when they engage with services in the SEND system. To date, SEND IASS as it currently stands has always been held in high regard about their approach to making Parent Carers feel valued and listened to, this needs to continue. Parent Carers are increasingly turning to organisations like SEND IASS and PACC to provide them with information that should be easily accessible from the SEND Local Offer. This is means that most of the SEND IASS officers time can be spent on soft touch, low level support. While this can be invaluable to many families, it means the time available to support families through the most challenging discussions and disputes around their childs care and wellbeing is minimal. PACC would like to see a greater focus on delivering the most comprehensive care and support to more of the complex cases or where families need help the most. Other sources of information or navigation (such as the SEND Local Offer, Healthier Together website, and NHS / LA Customer Service Teams) should be improved across the system so that families can access these effectively and utilise SEND IASS when it is necessary.

SEND IASS has always had a strong focus on helping families through challenges within Education. PACC understands that there is a greater volume of these cases often, however we are keen to see a greater focus on supporting families where they are seeking to resolve challenges with Social Care and Health services also. This has been made a minimum standard of SEND IASS services, but the lack funding within Shropshire’s service has limited the reach of this part of the service.

PACC are supportive of the current providers of the service as they can enhance the offer through their being embedded within the Citizens Advice Bureau, which allows them to offer lots of other help and advice. However, we can see an opportunity to influence positive change and would welcome the opportunity to support community engagement to promote coproduction in this area.

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