Accessing support for children with special educational needs and/or a disability can take time and effort. Army life may further complicate matters but help is available. Jill Misson reports…
WHEN a posting is looming, there are numerous forms to fill in to move house, change schools and transfer
healthcare. If you have a child with special educational needs and/or a disability (SEND), relocating can be much more challenging.
When *Emily’s family moved in 2020, their Service Family Accommodation (SFA) had to undergo adaptations to meet her daughter’s additional needs. Her son, who has autism, waited months for a suitable school place.
She says: “I had to constantly chase the local authority otherwise I wouldn’t hear from them. They provided a tutor for a limited time each week, but it wasn’t enough.”
Parents of children with SEND often contact AFF because they have battled for some time without getting anywhere. Health & additional needs specialist Karen Ross says: “There is a sense of fatigue, frustration, anger and at times pure desperation.”
Time pressure is often a factor as the assessment process can stretch over many months. Karen explains: “Parents are reporting that once healthcare professionals know they are moving they will often not refer them into the system. They should still refer because the Armed Forces Covenant commitment states that any time accrued on an NHS waiting list should be transferred and the relative position retained. When registering with a new GP, parents should ensure their child is referred for continuing treatment or assessment and not as a new referral.”
It’s important for your soldier to be aware of army policy AGAI 108 and to inform the chain of command of your family’s circumstances.
“There is a sense of fatigue, frustration, anger and at times pure desperation.”
Two of Emma Holcroft’s sons were diagnosed with autism. She says: “Although the army is very supportive, they couldn’t always guarantee my husband days off for appointments and when he was deployed to Iraq, I felt scared and alone.”
Buying their own house has given the family more stability. Both children now have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan and attend a special school.
Emma explains: “I’ve got an amazing support network and the boys are settled and won’t be uprooted.”
If you have any educational concerns about your child, you are encouraged to contact the Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS).
Team Leader Sue Smyth says: “The CEAS team is made up of experienced advisers and educational officers who are qualified teachers. “We know how stressful life may be and can offer support to service parents and liaise with schools and local authorities if needed.”
The current SEND Code of Practice requires CEAS to contribute to any statutory assessment leading to an EHC plan for a service child and they may be able to support a family’s request to retain their quarter until the process is finalised.
CEAS can also explain relevant jargon and how terminology and procedures may vary in the devolved nations or overseas.
For postings outside the UK, parents can view the website for each MOD school to read the SEND policy and SEND
school information report.
Contact details are listed for the Special Educational Needs and Disability Co-ordinator (SENDCO) who’s able to answer questions and ensure a smooth transition by communicating with the previous school.
Claire Scott is SEND lead for MOD Schools. She says: “If a child has a more significant special educational need there may be a requirement to go through the MOD assessment of supportability overseas so that the school can put plans into place before the child arrives.”
Educational Psychology Advisory Specialists support SENDCOs and teachers in MOD schools. Children with SEND will work towards targets on an Individual Learning Plan. A Service Children’s Assessment of Need (SCAN) is reserved for pupils with the most complex and long-term needs requiring specialist provision. Where a SCAN is in place, on return to the UK a local authority will assess whether to issue an EHC plan.
Support for parent and child
At Wallop Primary School in Hampshire, Christine Sexton takes pride in her role as SENDCO. She says: “It’s a very
rewarding job seeing children overcome their barriers. We assess all new joiners to ensure that appropriate support is put in place quickly. Partnership with parents is crucial and most schools will give advice on strategies to help them support their child at home.”
Parents can also engage with the local Special Educational Needs and Disability Information Advice and Support
Services (SENDIASS). Families with a child who has SEND can join SSAFA’s Forces Additional Needs and Disability
Forum (FANDF) which is made up of members who all have lived experience, understand the challenges and can help with accessing available support. The group, which has compiled a comprehensive guide for service families, conducts research to inform discussions with policy makers.
Chair Alan Bowie says: “We are passionate about helping forces families with additional needs and disabilities. If we can make life easier for one family, it has been worth it.”
“There will be days when you want to give up and question why the system takes so long but in the end you will get there.”
Parent carer forums
Belonging to a local parent carer forum has helped Helen Merrick whose daughter has complex needs. She says: “We live in a large county with little to no understanding of service life. I’ve been able to work with my local authority and by inviting commissioners to where we live it has enabled more isolated army families to receive support.”
For families going through assessment for SEND, Emma Holcroft says: “My advice is to hang on in there. There will be days when you want to give up and question why the system takes so long but in the end you will get there.”
If you’re struggling or need some advice and support, the following organisations are there to help:
kids.org.uk (sendiass tab)