Parents of disabled children in Putney and Wandsworth say trust in council is 'eroded'
Just walking into school can be difficult for a child with autism. There are lots of loud noises from other students, cars beeping and parents shouting after their children.
It is often overwhelming, and children may lash out or withdraw themselves.
For mums and dads with autistic children, they are always worried what will happen next, and what other parents will think. They worry that they won't understand, which is why it is so important to be able to access help and speak to other parents in a similar situation.
Now parents of disabled children in Wandsworth have spoken out against possible plans to bring a local charity in-house (to be run by the council), saying their trust in the council has been 'eroded.”
Mother Emel Rizwani, whose eight-year-old son has ADHD, set up a petition against the plans because she fears the charity will be subject to the council's 'budget constraints” if brought in-house, and could see families facing longer waits for help.
She said: 'For a GP, you often have to wait two weeks, for CAMHS (Child and Mental Health Services) the waiting list is at least nine months long. But you can call Contact and they are with you there and then. They give you advice and give you courses on how to understand your child's behaviour and techniques on learning to deal with it, they are a shoulder to cry on.
'They talk to you about what you are entitled to and what you can push for, and what you can ask the school for.”
She added: 'Because they are a charity and independently run, at any point you can call them and they are there. If they are brought into the local council there is no way it will still be run like that. It will just go to the waiting lists again.”
A meeting of the Education and Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee in September proposed to consolidate special educational needs services by bringing the staff delivering SEND family support in-house so they are directly employed by the council.
The aim is to ‘streamline' services, as the number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has risen in the borough from 495 in 2010 to 1,205 this year.
Contact is currently independent and contracted by the council. It provides parents with advice filling in forms to help them with benefits as well as hosting days out with families.
Its contract was recently extended until December 2020, after which a review will take place.
Ms Rizwani says it is an 'invaluable” resource adding, 'My son is just really lively and can't always read a room, he doesn't really realise if he's annoying people.
'That's really stressful when you're trying to let him have fun but also you're really conscious of being judged.
'I've got a really mild case of needs and problems, there are other people with much worse than me. But when you go out with Contact you're with other parents and everybody just gets it. No-one's judging you and no-one's judging your kid. It's one of the only times you can truly relax because you know that that pressure is off. That's incredibly valuable for your mental health.”
She claims that parents' trust has been 'eroded' with the council after the recent changes to the Autism Advisory Service at Garratt Park. She hopes the petition will make them rethink their plans for Contact Wandsworth:
'I just thought, put it out there and get signatures. Ideally now purdah is lifted and they take up this whole process again, we will be able to slap down hopefully 1,000 signatures and say ‘this thing you are proposing, there's a lot of objection to it, look here's the proof',” she said.
The petition currently has more than 600 signatures.
'I'm in a lucky position, I don't need to fight for housing and there are people who are doing all of this as well as having to fight for benefits and other entitlements. The thing with Contact being independent is that these people trust them,” she said.
'I think the problem is families' trust in the council has been eroded because all of these services have been eroded.”
Another mother, who only wishes to be known as Fiona, has a 12-year-old daughter with autism.
She said: 'Many of us parents have lost trust in Wandsworth borough council to do the right thing in terms of our children.
'Contact is a brilliant service, I had heard of the Disability Living Allowance but I really didn't think it would apply to me. I thought it would be something means tested, but they explained to me what it was, they went through the forms with me page by page and helped me make an application so we've ended up with an extra £4,000 to help with our daughter's needs. So that's a massive benefit when you have these extra costs.
'The fact that it isn't politicised and is independent is hugely important because Wandsworth have shown themselves again and again to really not understand the issues, and to be seen to care more about the cost.
'I would be absolutely devastated if Contact had to move under Wandsworth's control. It would not be the same thing anymore.”
Meagan Leggett, Contact's London projects manager said: 'We understand that the council plan to run a consultation on all SEND related services in the borough – including Contact Wandsworth – early in the new year. This will include workshops and focus groups to help the council understand more about families with disabled children's lived experience, what's important to them and what support they would most value – which will help inform any decisions the council make about services offered to families in the future.
'In the meantime we will continue to work closely with the council and are delighted that the council have recently confirmed that our contract to deliver support, information and advice to families with disabled children in Wandsworth will be given a six-month extension – which means we will continue to serve families in the area until at least December 2020.”
A spokesperson for Wandsworth Council said it had recently unveiled a series of proposals to improve early help services for children and families to make sure they can be 'easily accessed and co-ordinated around the individual needs of each family.”
They said these plans were drawn up following 'wide-ranging discussions with families, partners and staff”.
The spokesperson added: 'We also want to enhance and optimise opportunities for families with children who have SEND and will start the process of reviewing a number of services early in the new year which will include taking into consideration those delivered by valued partners like ‘Contact' and those delivered by the council.
'This will be subject to detailed consultation and to ensure that families have continuity while this work is underway we have decided that although Contact's contract comes to a close at the end of June we have extended it to run until the end of 2020 with a further six-month option to June 2021 to make sure that we have enough time to complete everything we need to do to deliver these improvements. And because we think the ideas and experiences of children and families are at the heart of this process we are actively encouraging them to take part in that consultation.
'In June this year we also approved proposals to significantly improve the support we provide to families affected by autism, following wide-ranging discussions with parents, teachers, educational psychologists and NHS professionals. The aim was to create better integrated and more cohesive specialist support services for local families, especially during school holidays.
'We want to ensure better communication links between parents and staff, better crisis support and introduce better longer-term planning for children to ensure their needs are fully and properly met as they grow. It also means additional resources are being put into post-diagnosis care and support.”
Sian Bayley - Local Democracty Reporter
January 9, 2020