"The hope you give parents is nothing short of a miracle"
"Our son was diagnosed with autism..."
"Our son was diagnosed with autism when he was 4 years old.
At the time, our son was in nursery and whilst we tried to make applications to private pre-schools, we were advised that he would have problems integrating with his peers, without additional teaching support provided through an EHC plan.
Having approached the Local Authority (LA), we were advised that our son would be ‘fine’ in a mainstream school environment without the EHC plan, as they would still be able to offer the support that they ‘believed’ our son required. Knowing how under-funded and under-resourced these schools are, we understood that their support would equate to less than 20 hours of shared teaching support per week. This would place the safety and well-being of our child and others at risk.
We would like to suggest to any parents going through a similar process, to not be persuaded that your child will be ‘fine’ with the basic support provided in schools. Ensure that you investigate this fully before any agreement is made.
We are so glad that we trusted our instincts on this matter and looked to seek further advice from Douglas Silas Solicitors. Douglas and his team took us through the EHC assessment process and we worked methodically through each stage to ensure that no stone was left unturned. They prepared us mentally for the challenge ahead and we were under no illusion that the journey would not be long and convoluted.
Whilst our initial application for EHC assessment was rejected by the LA, Douglas and his team were undeterred. In addition, whilst they did not imply that it would be easy, they led us with confidence through the application process. Fortunately, the LA reassessed our case before our application of appeal was processed, taking us to the next stage of the EHC assessment.
Whilst the LA were due to conduct their own assessment of our son, Douglas Silas recommended that we also approach independent experts to provide an objective viewpoint. Again, this advice was worth its weight in gold as it was formally established that our son would require 1:1 support in a mainstream school environment for 32 hours per week (including playtime, lunch breaks etc.) and that he should be held back one academic year to join Reception rather than beginning Year 1.
Douglas also recommended that we visit as many schools as possible so that we could make an informed decision on what placement was right for our son. We identified a particular school outside of the Borough (our home bordered two Boroughs). To pass any single criteria through the LA would be challenging enough; to pass all criteria seemed inconceivable.
It seemed like a daunting process to start battling with the LA and we were met with resistance nearly every step of the way. There were a lot of forms to complete, letters to send and e-mail correspondence which Douglas and his team assisted with to ensure that we presented ourselves appropriately; this was sometimes hard given how emotionally charged the process was.
Whilst there were several face-to-face meetings with representatives from the LA, our main recommendation would be not to complete any forms or commit to anything without passing this by the solicitor first. Whilst it may seem obvious, you can be led down a path of thinking that what you have commented on ‘in passing’ or when given a document to sign ‘there and then’ is fairly insignificant to the process. Everything counts.
Fortunately, Douglas and his team were on hand to help navigate around any potential problems and to provide calm, reassuring (but not unrealistic) advice. If Douglas was not available to speak, his assistant was able to offer very sound advice or relay any messages. Similarly, Douglas would take our calls in the evening when necessary.
Significantly, whilst we did not miss critical deadlines, Douglas Silas Solicitors taught us not to be intimidated by the deadlines imposed by the LA. Douglas encouraged us to go at our own pace and ensure that as parents, we acted in the best interests of our son rather than the authorities.
Often, the LA will leave you very little time to respond to their requests. To reassure other parents going through this process, it will not be the end of the world if you do not respond in their timeframe provided you let them know and keep Douglas updated for appropriate advice. It certainly takes nerve to stand your ground, but as we found out, your child will still be OK.
It is also important not to feel pressured into taking a school place for your child that does not seem appropriate simply because this is appears to be the only option presented to you. Many of the schools that we thought our son should go to were filling up and we were scared that we would miss out if we didn’t go with the LA recommendations.
Providing you have the EHC plan, you can always move your child to a more appropriate school that meets all or most of your criteria in the future but stay focused on achieving the EHC plan. For us, this was much more important than achieving an instant school placement.
Overall, the assessment process takes an awful lot of patience and a great deal of faith, especially when it can seem like nobody is doing anything about your case. Stay with it; in the end our son was offered a place in Reception, at the school of choice and with 1:1 support for the hours required.
It was not without a fight or compromise but, without a doubt, if you have Douglas and his team on your side you have a much greater chance of a win or settlement. Douglas Silas and his team are best placed to help you with this.
We cannot thank Douglas or recommend his services highly enough and we would like to wish any other parents that are about to embark on this process every peace and confidence that this will have best possible outcome."
Read More: "Our daughter is 17 years old..."