Parents have been ‘misled’ by County Council, says support organisation by Emma Harwood

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) is failing in its duty of care to hundreds of severely disabled and special needs children by axing funding from vital after-school and holiday clubs across the county, according to a children’s charity.

ESCC is set to approve plans to cut money from six special schools – Southdowns, Hazel Court and Lindfield Schools in Eastbourne, Torfield and Saxon Mount Schools in Hastings and Grove Park School in Crowborough, whose after school and holiday clubs provide extra-curricular activities for children while also helping reduce the burden on their parents and carers who might be working or caring for other children – at Lewes County Hall on Monday 16th July. 

Cuts to children’s services are due to be approved at a county council meeting on Monday 16th July

As a result, the existing clubs will close and 27 staff members, who were informed of the proposals in May will be made redundant at the end of August, with schools being offered an 18 -month fund to enable them to start up their own after school and holiday services. 

ESCC says it does not have a legal duty to provide after school and holiday clubs and is cutting the funds as part of  £17 million saving for this financial year.

A Department for Education (DfE) fund for Sabden Academy Trust, which also provides crucial after-school, overnight accommodation and holiday clubs, will also be slashed. 

“These proposals relate to after school clubs and not respite care, which the council continues to provide to those children who have been assessed as benefitting from it,” an ESCC spokesperson said. 

However, lawyer Rebecca Whippy, chair of the charity Embrace, for children with complex needs and severe disabilities, said that by cutting these services ESCC is contravening the Children’s Act 1989 and section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 which requires that such services are provided for disabled children where a need has been established.

She added that many of the children affected should have had social care assessments carried out by ESCC. These assessments would then have made it statutory for the council to provide the after school services. 

Ms Whippy said that instead, the council had continued to fund the after school clubs and had ‘misled’ parents into believing it was providing their children with the social care they required, rather than spending money on having their needs assessed.

Saxon Mount school in Hastings will be affected by the cuts

“A lot of these children’s parents have requested social care assessments and have been refused with the council saying ‘here you go, have more clubs’, which has now left them with no right of action because they have no assessment.” 

In the case of Sabden Academy Trust, which has been receiving £800,000 of DfE funding additional to the money the trust receives to run the school, the council claims it needs to distribute the cash more evenly among other special schools in the county.

This is because ESCC says the funding is supposed to be used to fund residential placements for children whose statutory Educational and Health Care Plan (ECHP) indicates they require weekly or termly boarding, a service which the trust does not provide.

“The trust uses the extra money to provide extra-curricular activities including sleepovers which are described as “residential placements,” an ESCC spokesperson said.

However, Ms Whippy said that the trust had been providing overnight, after school and holiday care for children with severe behaviour problems, who are very aggressive and violent. “These children will now be with their families for seven days, and its not just their parents they attack, it’s their siblings as well.”

“So these, too, are children that should have had a social care assessment  but whose parents were misled into thinking the provision of informal clubs and after school services was the same thing, because parents don’t know the difference, and now they’ve got no right of action.” 

“Sabden Trust  have a lot of history in providing after school clubs and overnight provision.”

“The local authority is making it out to be a sleepover but what they actually do is train them in independent skills, these children, how to brush their teeth, how to use a knife and fork, so if these cuts go through you’re going to end up with a generation of young people who could have been independent as adults, but who are now going to have to lean very heavily on adult social care, which is also being cut, and so they’re basically being left unsupported.” she said: “I actually think East Sussex County Council have failed in their duty of care to the children.”

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