Council services not keeping pace with rising complex needs children

A new report commissioned by the Council for Disabled Children and published by the National Children's Bureau, has highlighted that the number of disabled children with complex needs has increased dramatically, and warned that affected families were finding it difficult to access local authority support.

The findings, collated from school consensus data, estimated that the number of disabled children and young people has increased by over 50 per cent since 2004 - from 49,300 to 73,000.

It also added that the real figures may be larger because many children with complex needs are educated in the Independent Special School Sector which is not required to return detailed data on these pupils.

According to Anne Pinney, author of the report’s, the reasons for the dramatic increase, include increased life expectancy for babies born with complex disabilities and congenital conditions such as cystic fibrosis.

The report outlined that the proportion of children with a disability supported by children’s services is falling, with 0.4 per cent of all 0 to 17-year-olds assessed as ‘children in need’, and suggested that qualifying for council help may be increasingly difficult.

It also cited that 41,500 children and young people with a learning disability or autism are currently on waiting lists to see a mental health specialist.

Commenting on the findings, Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, said: “You’d think that because these disabled children are known to health services, social services and education teams, we’d have a good idea of the numbers involved.

“That simply isn’t the case. The national data on disabled children is not fit for purpose: it has gaps, anomalies and inconsistencies, and raises the question how can we plan to meet the needs of these children and their families, when we don’t know what those needs are?”

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, said: “The transition process from SEND statements to Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) is complex, but councils are doing everything they can within the resources available to make sure children are being supported and getting the help that they need.

“In addition, we believe the DfE’s proposed changes to high needs funding will reduce council and school flexibility to make additional funding available where there are rising demands for SEND support, making existing problems even worse.”

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