The Children’s Commissioner’s Help at Hand service offers advice and assistance to children in care, children working with social services, children living away from home, and care leavers.
We recently wrote about how Help at Hand assists children with disabilities who are living with their families. There are also a significant number of disabled children who are cared for by local authorities. This could be because their parents have been unable to meet their needs, or due to concerns about them suffering harm at home. While most have a positive experience, some of these children face difficulties with their accommodation, support, and transition to adult services. The shortage of specialist children’s homes and foster carers means that children are sometimes moved out of their home area and, in emergency situations, placed in accommodation that doesn’t meet their needs. A lack of coordination between services such as Health, Social Care and Education can also leave children without a suitable school place or support within their home and community. These young people rely on professionals to make the right decisions for them and to consider their wishes and views. Most do a fantastic job, but some children do not receive the service they deserve and are left feeling scared and ignored. The examples below show how Help at Hand has supported children and young people with disabilities who faced difficulties within the care system.
Amir* is a looked after child who has a physical disability which limits his mobility. He also experiences challenges with his mental health due to past trauma. He is close to reaching 18 and will need support from adult services into adulthood. Amir contacted Help at Hand because his accommodation provider had given notice and the local authority had told him he would have to move the next day, to an area he was unfamiliar with. He didn’t have the opportunity to see his new accommodation and nobody from the local authority checked whether it was suitable for his disabilities. He was not accompanied on his move and, when he arrived, he found it had stairs to the bathroom, which he was expected to share. The accommodation was also a long way from his friends, college, and health professionals. Amir felt, rightly, that his needs and wellbeing had not been considered at all when planning this move, and that his concerns were dismissed. Help at Hand intervened and raised these issues with the local authority, both in writing and at multi-agency discussions. We also ensured Amir was provided with an independent advocate to support him at meetings and in making a complaint. The Children’s Commissioner was so concerned that she wrote to the Director of Children’s Services about Amir’s situation. Ultimately, he was moved to more suitable accommodation back in his home area, but the experience was traumatic for him and left him with a deep mistrust of the professionals responsible for his care.
Sara* is a young person with complex physical and learning disabilities, who has been in care from a young age. She lived in a small residential school for five years prior to her eighteenth birthday and very much wanted to move onto its post-18 setting, where most of her friends were going. This would require coordination and funding agreements between Children’s Services, Adult Social Care, and the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Team from her local authority. Unfortunately, as her birthday approached, there had been no agreement on where Sara would live, with Adult Services and Education suggesting she could move to semi-independent accommodation and attend a mainstream college. Sara really didn’t feel this was right for her, due to her physical and learning disabilities and the lack of time she would be given to make the transition. Her social worker agreed with her, and her independent advocate contacted Help at Hand. We wrote a letter to the local authority’s joint funding panel, asking for Sara’s wishes and best interests to be prioritised in decision-making. The panel agreed to fund her preferred residential college for a year, although she still faces uncertainty about the future beyond this.
These examples demonstrate the disruption and distress that many disabled children face when they are in care and leaving care. We want all young people, whatever their needs, to have a positive experience in care and a smooth transition to adult services. Young people with disabilities have the same hopes and as ambitions as their peers, but their specific needs and challenges must be recognised, so they have the right home, education, healthcare, and support at every stage in their life.