28th June 2017

Looking for SEN provision for your child? Help is out there – you are not alone

Looking for SEN provision for your child? Help is out there – you are not alone Cover Photo

Melinda Nettleton, head of specialist law firm SEN Legal, shares her story and explains how her firm can help others who were in her situation...

As a solicitor with years of experience in most areas of law, I have always been a stickler for preparation. Throughout university, my training contract and early years as a judicial reviewer, I had frequently spent all-night sessions reading up on case law and legislation to make sure I was fully researched and ready for whatever the next day threw at me.

When I fell pregnant with my son in 1989, it didn’t take long before I had all the usual ‘baby-books’ on my shelf too. It wasn’t until my child was diagnosed with a severe language disorder and dyspraxia in 1990, however, that I realised that I had nothing at all on Special Educational Needs. It soon proved to be quite a learning curve.

The services I initially expected to help me weren’t there, and working out that the people I thought should be able to advise me didn’t actually know all the answers either, was an extremely frustrating and time consuming process.

I have always wanted the best for my child, as any parent would, and so took it upon myself to explore options for additional support from his educators. This didn’t really get me anywhere. I often remember dropping my son off at the school gates, like other parents, and being met with comments like “it won’t get you anywhere”, “you’ll only be disappointed”, “we don’t do that here”, “no, you won’t get that” or similar snippets of soul-destroying so-called ‘friendly’ advice.

The problem is that some teachers and local authority officers, whether consciously or unconsciously, often give information about their own local authority and NHS policies rather than what the Law and SEN Code of Practice say. You are left wondering, “Have I explained myself clearly enough?”. The reality is it’s not your communication skills, just the standard disinformation, discouragement and general negativity.

I decided to just get on with it. I ditched the waste-of-time meetings and stopped worrying about what the LA officers and school thought and whether they would be offended.

Consequently, my son went on to receive an education in highly specialist independent settings, funded throughout by my local authority. Now grown up, my son has a first in Philosophy and an MA too. Not bad for a severe language disorder. All that therapy and specialist teaching really does work.

The harsh truth of the matter is that most local authorities are simply balancing their legal obligations with budgetary constraints. To be seen as ‘good at their job’, they must deliver within the budget they are allocated. As these budgets are stretched, vital support services are often first to suffer, leaving many children with SEN struggling. However, the current legislation has no “if we can afford it” clause. The law does not allow local authorities to refuse to put provision in place on the ground of cost, if it is evidenced that a child has a specific need.

This situation has left far too many parents in battles against local authorities to secure provisions for their children which the local authorities will be reluctant (to say the least) to pay for.

After the experiences I had encountered with my son, I soon realised that I was not alone. I started helping others in their fight against local authorities, with much of this work being conducted from my living room at home in the early days. Fast forward 27 years and I now have a team of 16 people working full time to support those who find themselves in the same desperate situation I did.

SEN Legal was founded on the principle that we don’t offer to do for other parents what I couldn’t do for mine. Since our incorporation in 2003 we have helped thousands of families in a similar position as I was in, with a success rate consistently, year on year, of over 90%. In the year ending 2016, our success rate was 97%. With such a wealth of specialist experience (personal and professional) in SEND law, we offer a sympathetic approach to families who have been let down and treated wrongly or unfairly, understanding that by the time parents reach us, they are usually at the end of their tether.

We are on your side – whether for simply advice and guidance, or as representatives in your appeals or tribunals. Our objective is always to use our considerable knowledge and experience to achieve the best possible solution for our clients, because when it comes to your child’s future, only the best will do.

For more information about SEN Legal, visit www.senlegal.co.uk