September 2014 saw the publication of a new SEND Code of Practice.This provides statutory guidance on duties, policies and procedures relating to children and families with special educational needs and/or disabilities. Four main areas of SEN have been identified:
1) Communicating and interacting
2) Cognition and learning
3) Social, emotional & mental health difficulties
4) Sensory and physical needs
As an art therapist, I offer assessment and support for people’s social, emotional and mental health difficulties. I encourage new ways of thinking, self-awareness, communicating and relating to others: a great deal can be learnt and change through the sessions. Whilst many of the children, young people and families with whom I work do not have SEND, some do… so understanding and putting this code into practice has been very much on my radar.
A major change is that Local Authorities are no longer the sole providers of services for children with SEND: parents now have a choice of who provides services for their child, and also a legal right to any personal budgets allocated to their child. Parents and children should be given access to impartial information and advice about matters relating to their SEND, including which services are available to support their emotional well-being and mental health.
I first saw this aspect of the Code being implemented by the SENCO of a primary school where I was working last summer. She asked me for some information about art therapy—and how it can support children and families with SEND—to publish on the school website. Now, on every school website, you should find easy-to-understand information about every service that school can access to support its pupils who have SEND.
Local Authorities are also required to publish a ‘Local Offer’, which aims to be a comprehensive one-stop shop for information on SEND provision and resources. It is hoped that the Local Offer will enable parents/carers or the child/young person to make informed choices around childcare, social care, education and health. It also aims to signpost people to leisure opportunities, social activities and events in the local area. I was heartened when Hertfordshire County Council contacted me, asking whether I would like to join Hertfordshire’s Local Offer, which is being compiled as part of the community directory (see https://search3.openobjects.com/kb5/hertfordshire/directory/home.page to take a look). It’s good to see that my local council are being proactive about implementing policy and encouraging independent professionals and service providers to sign up. It was also great to know that art therapy is being recognised—as it should—as a relevant and helpful service for children and families with SEND. It was easy to submit the extra information needed, and once the Directory Team have approved my entry, Creating Healthy Minds’ services will be listed as part of Hertfordshire’s Local Offer… hopefully this will make it easier for children, young people, families (and professionals) to find out about and access support if needed.