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EDP: SPECIAL REPORT: ‘Failed and forgotten’ – are a generation of our children being let down?

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In a Special Report for the Eastern Daily Press, Jessica Frank-Keyes writes:

A generation of Norfolk’s children are at risk of being “failed” and “forgotten” as issues with already struggling support services are worsened by the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

Experts fear the scale of the “fallout from the Covid-19 crisis” for young people is being masked, with vulnerable children trapped in abusive homes and homeschooling widening attainment gaps and cutting off access to mental health support.

Councillors, campaigners and families have told of children being “tragically let down”, excluded from mainstream education, and “actively suicidal” before receiving support.

It comes after Norfolk faced serious criticisms of its special educational needs provision, while children and young people’s mental health services remained in special measures last year.

The key areas of concern highlighted are:

• Mental health services for children and young people remain in special measures,

• Families facing year-long waits for special educational needs support,

• Warnings of a “black hole” for the most vulnerable young adults,

• Teachers and youth workers increasingly concerned about continued homeschooling,

• Existing “low aspiration levels” and a gender gap in educational attainment,

• A “digital divide” in technology access disadvantaging poorer students,

• Fewer police child abuse referrals and fears at-risk children may be recruited by gangs,

• And warnings of increasing deprivation for the 15pc of children who live in poverty.

‘She’s been massively let down’ – the reality of special educational needs failings:

Alarm bells were rung over a recent report into the county’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision, which saw inspectors highlight “significant areas of weakness”.

Watchdogs found long waiting times for assessments and support, a lack of trust, and children left “isolated” and at “crisis point” before receiving help.

And John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, admitted that issues with the services were “certainly not what I want for the children of Norfolk”.

But families and a charity chief executive hit out at the council following the report’s revelations.

Nicki Price, from SENsational families said Mr Fisher’s response to the report was “infuriating” and risked losing the confidence of families.

She said: “We’re working with families whose children are in the wrong schools and can’t get education, health and care plans (ECHPs). One family was told they’d be seen nearly a year ago. It’s just so frustrating.”

One mother of a child with SEN, who wished to remain anonymous, said repeated school moves had affected her daughter’s mental health.

“It’s had a massive impact,” she said. “She is frightened of school. She will have meltdowns. She’s got no self-confidence. She’s really, really low. There’s just no support.

“She’s been massively let down by the system.”

Ms Price added: “If these issues are historic why is the rate of tribunals going up? That money could be better spent on helping children.”

She said lack of SEN mental support was a continued problem.

“It all comes down to funding,” she said. “Children are having mental health problems because they’re out of education. They’re getting into county lines and crime. They’re particularly vulnerable to that kind of exploitation.”

Sandra Squire, independent Norfolk county councillor said she had been highlighting SEN issues since being elected three years ago.

“In Norfolk we struggle particularly with SEND,” she said. “It’s consistently the EHCP timetables.

“It was the very first thing I spoke about when I was elected as a councillor three years ago.

“Here we are three years later and I’m asking the same question. It’s just not going away.”

Ms Squire said the council was poor at communicating with parents and said children missing out on education had long-term consequences for their futures.

She added: “The longer it goes on the worse it gets. They miss out on their education and the support they should get. You can’t always fix that.

“There is a feeling from parents that they’re turned down just to see who will appeal and take it to tribunal.”

Because that’s exactly what they have done.

The parents of a 10-year-old child with ADHD and autism say they feel they have been “let down at every turn”.

Andrew Hull, 49 and Morag Reekie, 45, waited a year for their son Jimmy to be diagnosed before they paid to go private out of desperation.

Family doctors routinely ask parents if they can go private, as they know families will either receive no help or wait years.

The psychologist partner of the so-called Chief Medical Officer at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) does private work, so Dan Dalton’s household could stand to profit from the failure of NSFT and Norfolk County Council services. Dalton at least declares this in the Register of Interests.

The long-time most senior doctor in mental health services for Children, Families and Young People (CFYP), Jon Wilson, the highest paid, the driving force behind the catastrophic Youth project, lately extortionately-rewarded for sitting in endless ‘workstreams’ talking about the proposed magical ‘transformation’ of services for young people by bureaucratic merger of the appalling services of Norfolk County Council and NSFT, is also the most senior doctor at a private hospital and yet has little time for face-to-face contact for NHS patients, despite massive waiting lists, earning more than the Prime Minister and finding the time for long lunches and swims at UEA during the so-called working day.

The Clinical Director of CFYP, Sarah Maxwell, finds time to work at a private hospital as the mental health services for which she is responsible use Covid-19 as an excuse to discharge children and young people from waiting lists and receive an appalling CQC inspection report, yet again.

“It went against everything I believe in,” Ms Reekie said.

But ongoing problems resulted in Jimmy leaving mainstream education, and his parents have told of the “shocking” lack of support.

Offshore worker Mr Hull said: “He seems to have lost all trust in other adults and teachers. We feel like we’ve been let down at every turn.

“Whether its mainstream school or the NHS support. I started out naively thinking that support and care for kids would be there and I’m afraid its just not. It’s shocking.”

Jimmy is now in week 34 of waiting for a plan for support in school, which children are meant to get within 20 weeks.

“People have to fight for their kids to get services that should be there as a matter of course,” Mr Hull added.

While Ms Neate-Evans, executive headteacher of Angel Road Infant and Junior School and Bignold Primary School, said “as a profession, we are becoming increasingly worried about the impact as the disruption continues”.

She said: “Parents tell us that over time, children are increasingly missing the social interaction with their peers. A child of a single parent who is trying to work from home, may feel quite isolated and detached from normality.

“We will all have worries about particular children.”

A mother of four has told of the “really tricky” impact of lockdown on her family.

Sandy Lysaght, 35, and her partner John Simmonds, 36, have a 12-year-old son, ten and eight-year-old daughters and a three-year-old daughter at nursery – and no garden.

“We couldn’t get a paddling pool or a slide out, something simple that other kids take for granted and my kids would have loved,” she said.

“It was really tricky”

She added: “The hardest thing was trying to do homeschool, as they’re all different ages and levels.

“I only have a work laptop and a family PC but the older three all needed computers.

“I had to reach out on Facebook to see if anyone had a spare – but there are people out there without anything.”

Calls to improve attainment and support for Norfolk children

Existing issues with mental health services, digital inequalities and gaps in educational attainment have been worsened by the impact of the coronavirus crisis, campaigners and councillors have warned.

Children are “not getting” vital mental health support and face “awful” divides in access to technology and online learning during the pandemic, it has been claimed.

It comes after warnings that a generation of Norfolk’s children are at risk of being “failed” and “forgotten” as issues with already struggling support services are worsened by the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

‘Let’s be ambitious for Norfolk’s children’ – calls to tackle failing mental health services:

The region’s mental health trust – dubbed England’s worst – remained in special measures despite showing improvements in care following it’s inspection in November last year.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has been rated “inadequate” three times by the CQC in recent years, with waiting lists in children and young people’s services remaining high.

And campaigners have stressed the importance of access to mental health services during the pandemic, with mental health issues “endemic” across the country.

A spokesperson for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: “Children and young people’s services have been failing for years and years. Where are the success stories for children and young people in Norfolk?

“It’s been going on for far too long.”

They added: “These failings are now happening while we’re dealing with a pandemic.

“Young people should be getting support. It’s not even the issue of long waiting lists – it’s people just not getting support.

“NSFT’s first response was to use it as an excuse to discharge 326 people who had been on waiting lists to discharge them from services.

“A generation of young people are being failed. It needs improvement. It needs competent management, it needs external expertise. It needs people who know what they’re doing.”

Click on the image below to read the Special Report in full on the EDP website, which contains excuses from the bureaucrats and professional graphics which demonstrate how so many children and young people are being let down.

High-quality investigative journalism is key to our campaign. Consider making a contribution on the EDP website or try to buy your local newspaper more regularly. They need our support.

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