I recently had a conversation with a head of SEN services in a local authority working incredibly hard to stretch scarce school placements for children with SEN. In the middle of our conversation, he explained how it simply isn’t fair for him to allocate resources based on who shouts the loudest. Rather, he has a duty to allocate based on who has the greatest need.  

Teenager with complex needs being read to at SEN school

I’ve been thinking about our conversation … A LOT.

He wasn’t saying that only some of the children were suitable or that their needs didn’t match the provision. No, at the heart of his comment about SEN services is a hierarchy of need founded on scarcity.

I’ve been reflecting on how easy it is for practitioners (good, hardworking professionals) to feel the tension with the parents who passionately and loudly advocate for their children. The concern is that those parents without a voice are left behind. 

It is tempting to see the problem as the increasing volume of angry parental voices sullying the decision-making process.    

But wouldn’t the volume naturally be turned down if legislation and political rhetoric accurately reflected reality? 

Is not the loudness of petitioning parents a symptom of a hierarchy of need founded on the fact that children’s requirements consistently outstrip available services?  

If there were enough SEN placements, therapy sessions, equipment supplies, practitioners or assessments, then it wouldn’t be a question of volume that determined the allocation of resources, but NEED alone. The problem which requires addressing isn’t how loud parents advocate for their child, but the fact the system is compliant in perpetually funnelling insufficient resources towards children who need more – leaving in its wake a tsunami of children whose needs are not met and whose parents are traumatised by a failing system.  

What if a collective voice of practitioners and families heralded the inadequacy of resources which fails to match both the guidance and legislation governing services?  

In the advent of even more cuts to public spending to social care, health and SEN, the volume will only get louder. Parents will not be silenced. And when the volume is pumped up does, let’s not vilify the voices of compassionate parents but rather join with them in amplifying our united stand against a system complicit in saying one thing and doing something else.  The victims are not only the children being failed but the parents being traumatised and those dedicated practitioners working between the rock and hard place of being trained to do one job and insufficiently resourced to carry it out.

Our health, social care and SEN services will consistently flout the principles they claim to stand on unless there are procedures and sufficient resources in place to bridge the gap between ideology and reality. It is only when parents aren’t pitted against each other in a gladiator ring of greatest need, or most failed, that they will feel safe enough to take off their armour. Practitioners and parents are all working so incredibly hard to improve the lives of children with disabilities, if only we could join forces to bring about real change.

Born at the Right Time is passionate about magnifying the needs of families of children with complex needs whilst helping services and practitioners to communicate effectively, work collaboratively and bridge the gap between them and the families they support.  

Find out about our range of courses for practitioners and resources for families. 

Rachel Wright is a qualified nurse and unqualified mum of 3, parenting a son with complex disabilities. She’s the author of The Skies I’m Under, host of The Skies We’re Under Podcast, an award-winning blogger and founder of Born at the Right Time. Passionate about effective communication and collaborative working, she uses her skills and lived experience to influence change, educate practitioners with CPD-certified courses and support families.

She is devoted to salt ‘n vinegar crisps and her middle son is writing a book titled, “My mum’s epic fails’. It is likely to have more than one volume.

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