A Time for Reflection – Baker Small

The world of parenting a child with additional needs is tough but incredibly rewarding.

This week I’ve seen SEN parents team together to right a wrong. Together we are definitely stronger.

I see myself as a teeny tiny cog in a massive engine. When all cogs work together for one common aim it’s amazing what can happen and what we can achieve. SEN families are pretty awesome. Fearsome and scary sometimes too.

In Evie’s life that machine is well oiled at present (and not of the alcoholic type of oil!). All agencies are working together to get her EHCP done. All professionals have submitted the necessary reports or at least visited. There are issues with the LA (as ever) but not about the content just the timetable has significantly slipped. It’s not a big issue, yet, but it is in my line of sight. As I’m sure all SEN parents know things like this are never far from your mind, it may not be on your immediate agenda but it’s there always, omnipresent, rumbling along in the background.

Likewise the wait for a sleep study. It’ll happen…not sure when but it will. It’s not massively urgent. Evie will sleep when she feels like it despite any encouragement or medication that tries to say otherwise. It’s amazing what you learn to live with and without.

I am conscious of never wanting to rock the boat. I know in my old life as a solicitor how hard things can be; how juggling umpteen different cases can add massive stress let alone the timetables that slip despite your best endeavours. Add to that financial pressure and you’ve got a horrid mix.

I didn’t set out to be the awkward SEN parent that I’m certain people sometimes see. I expect and I demand only the best for my daughter. Nothing less than she deserves.

I don’t shout without reason and when I rant there is always a good reason. So a boat rocker I seemingly shall be.

I don’t want to harp on about the Baker Small debacle. Now if you have missed it this is how the story goes…once upon a time there was a solicitor who tweeted some rather inappropriate things about SEN families. Rightly the SEN world reacted and brought his conduct to wider attention. For further details see here…

https://itsallaboutevie.com/2016/06/12/sen-law-professional-responsibility/

Mr Small has quite frankly made his bed and now must lie in it. Let the Solicitors Regulation Authority take action and let others who may have had the same propensity and views of SEN parents take note.

Mr Small has released information that he received an abusive email and “the red mist descended”. I would respectfully submit that whilst he may have received an abusive email, it doesn’t give him the right to have reacted in that manner. I think most solicitors will have been on the receiving end of verbal and even physical abuse. I know I have. I know of solicitors who have been stalked. It didn’t give me or them the right to react…two wrongs don’t make a right.

Local authorities who have been dealing with Baker Small are now either reviewing their contracts or ceasing to work with them. That is the only possible option for those local authorities, considering the circumstances.

Right! Enough preaching!

What I have loved to see is the reaction from the legal community. The shock and the anger. Their despair that any lawyer could quite frankly have been as unprofessional, irresponsible and stupid to have tweeted what he did. To belittle children and SEN families is beyond their belief too. I did tell you that I had some excellent lawyer friends.

As one legal friend put it –
Never discuss a case on social media #law101″

Another said as I felt – that he’s caused us all to be tarred with the same brush. Solicitors are at a disadvantage to start with. We have such a bad reputation for being money orientated and lacking in emotion and care. People assume that we don’t care about children or money, only about our costs. For some that will undoubtedly be true but for most it’s not. The love of the law drives some. For many it’s to help people. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s why I was a family solicitor, to help others.

What must come in the wake of this furore is a review and recognition that SEN law and the new system isn’t working as a well oiled machine…it never has. It’s confusing. Combative. You need a degree to understand it. Personally thanks to IPSEA I have a sound knowledge due to one of their courses, that combined with research and constant questioning of authority helps no end.

I feel fortunate to be happy to argue with and question professionals. I have no fear in doing that. We shouldn’t feel that we are having to confront people when we disagree. However the way SEN is, its complicated nature, it means it is automatically seen to be a fight. Parents fear EHCP’s. It’s a massively intimidating process.

The lines of communication ought to be smoother. After all the child is the most important person in every case. Surely if we all acknowledge that, then there must be an easier way.

I personally am a great believer in mediation. Being able to sensibly and calmly to talk through differences with a fully trained mediator. Mediation in family law can be a game changer. I’m not saying that it works in every instance but it gives a feeling of empowerment back to the parties involved. I’m sure that it could easily work here too.

I’ve seen in the wake of the BS debacle people stating that they think that lawyers shouldn’t be allowed in the SEN process. I disagree. Lawyers can help to ensure that both sides are properly represented and advised. But in order to do that there really ought to be funding for parents to be able to contest issues in certain circumstances. The lawyers involved ought to have a clear aim of the best interests of the child being at heart of every case. It’s not a game. These are people’s lives.

In the last few years I’ve seen legal aid be decimated in so many areas…family, civil and crime. Access to Justice is as a result restricted for so many people. Families in SEN disputes generally seek advice from pro bono lawyers or charities. There are no other options unless you pay privately; quite frankly not many people have sufficient money to do that. Interestingly Baker Small state that they did a lot of pro bono work too for parents and had a subsidiary company which dealt specifically with that side of SEN Law. It’s somewhat surprising to me therefore, the level of disdain that was shown by this solicitor for parents.

The area of SEN is so incredibly important. Children with SEN are amongst the most vulnerable of our society. Surely they and their families have the right to be adequately represented…to ensure that they are not walked all over. Ultimately it shouldn’t be about money (yes I am an idealist!) it’s about what the child reasonably needs. What do I mean by reasonably? Well it’s about the right level of support. There isn’t an infinite pot sadly and there does have to be a judgement call. Speech therapy every day for example would likely to be seen to be a step too far…fortnightly however in certain circumstances may be extremely beneficial and therefore reasonable.

I’ve often thought about the children with SEN whose parents don’t have legal knowledge, don’t have access to funds, who trust professionals implicitly…they’re so open to being abused. Losing out. The system is said to be universally fair and equal and it’s not.

As ever in life if you have more money or knowledge, you tend to get better results. Unfair but true.

Perhaps this can be used as an opportunity for a full and frank discussion as to how we can truly help children and their families with SEN.

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2 thoughts on “A Time for Reflection – Baker Small

  1. I was point blank refused mediation within minutes of requesting it with SEN re ECHP and the school I wanted. Now after submitting papers for tribunal, SEN concede that my son gets the extra funding…

    Like

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