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SEN Support

Volume 533: debated on Monday 17 October 2011

We have finished consultation on our Green Paper, “Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability”. Twenty pathfinders, covering 31 local authority areas, are under way and will be testing proposals set out in the Green Paper. We will publish details of how we will respond to the consultation and take forward the development of special educational needs and disability provision by the end of the year.

Some of the experiences of my constituents suggest that adopted children are especially vulnerable to developing special educational needs as a result of trauma. Would the Minister consider extending support to adoptive parents, especially information and advice, so that any latent special educational needs of adopted children can be identified as early as possible?

The critical issue is that children in care have particularly high levels of special educational needs. We need to get better at picking up those needs at an early stage and putting in place the right kind of care and support package for those children so that their needs are not latent and not picked up by the time the children are being put up for adoption. I announced in September which areas would begin the pathfinders. Some of those local authorities will be looking specifically at how they can improve that process of assessment for children in care. I hope that will make significant differences as we begin to learn the results of that for families who adopt a child.

The Minister touched on the issue of children in care with special needs. Many children with special needs are those living in situations of domestic violence. The Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), recently sent a foreword to support Operation Encompass, which is based in Plymouth. Will the Minister agree to meet those involved, such as Police Sergeant Carney Howarth, and teachers to hear first hand how they are supporting vulnerable young people and how they quickly identify those whose education could be adversely affected by domestic violence, leading to special needs?

I am sure that I or my colleague, depending who is most appropriate, will be happy to meet people to discuss that matter.

I am pleased that the Minister seems to be aware that looked-after children are nine times more likely than their peers to have special educational needs, yet while the number of children in care is increasing, support for special educational needs is decreasing. A recent report from Action for Children suggests that the impact of Government cuts on children and families will mean even more children being at risk of neglect and taken into care. There is no time to waste. What action will the Minister take now to reverse these worrying trends?

I welcome the hon. Lady to the Front Bench and look forward to working with her on these issues. I know that she has taken a particular interest in looked-after children and children in care. We have made it clear to local authorities that the early intervention grant should be spent on early intervention. We know that it is difficult for local authorities at the moment, just as it is difficult for the Government. We are all having to make difficult decisions, but I think that local authorities are the right people to make those decisions. In areas that are beginning pathfinder work, we will be able to test exactly how we can ensure that we support children with special educational needs better in a range of settings.