Families slam Haringey’s communication over SEND children, as report exposes ‘adversarial atmosphere’

Brian Leveson's son Zack. Picture: Wendy Charlton

Brian Leveson's son Zack. Picture: Wendy Charlton - Credit: Wendy Charlton

An “adversarial atmosphere” and a “lack of continuity of leadership” cause problems in Haringey’s dealings with families who have children with special educational needs (SEND), an independent report says.

Amanda Bernard was not surprised by the Amaze report into how Haringey communicates with parents and

Amanda Bernard was not surprised by the Amaze report into how Haringey communicates with parents and carers of SEND children. Picture: Amanda Bernard - Credit: Archant

And in response some of those families have told the Ham&High how years of difficulties engaging with the town hall have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

Haringey commissioned the independent report from Sussex charity Amaze. It says the council is not meeting its statutory duty to “co-produce” services with parents.

The council does not currently have a parent-carer forum – and the report suggests even when it did, it was not appropriately funded.

Haringey Council welcomed the findings, which it said was commissioned to highlight areas for improvement. The town hall said it recognised the “substantial need for improvement” in communication.

Haringey Civic Centre Picture: Ken Mears

Haringey Civic Centre Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Haringey father Brian Leveson, who has been dealing with the council for two decades, runs the blog Difficult Parent. He said: “The report is based on a series of others which tell the same story. The behaviour of the department, and the way they respond if you ask them questions can be brutal.”

He said that, going back to November 2018’s Ofsted report criticising children’s services in Haringey, “very little had changed”.

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Brian referenced a recent High Court judgement which alleged a “litany of failings” in Haringey’s children’s services department, saying: “My concern is that, just like with Justice Hayden’s ruling, things are seen as one-offs, unique events when in reality this is systematic failure.”

Amanda Bernard, another parent carer, said she was continually disappointed by the council’s approach.

Michelle Safo, who has butted heads with Haringey Council over SEND provision, with her family. Pict

Michelle Safo, who has butted heads with Haringey Council over SEND provision, with her family. Picture; Michelle Safo - Credit: Archant

Amanda, who lives in Hornsey, said: “They have been talking about changes for two decades.”

During lockdown, she said it had been “very unclear what support is available”.

She added: “Haringey has a duty of co-production with parents but if you’re parents who question them, they don’t want to deal with you.”

A survey by Markfield - the charity which runs Haringey’s SEND independent advisory service - was designed to gauge how families had been coping in lockdown and had 63 respondents.

Mary Langan. Picture: Luke Dixon

Mary Langan. Picture: Luke Dixon - Credit: Archant

Almost half said they “needed more support” from the local authority in recent months. One comment was that, during the pandemic, “a few very meagre emails have been sent out but they do not address the reality of problems many families have faced”.

Michelle Safo, a mum who was backed by the Local Government Ombudsman when she criticised Haringey’s approach to communication in 2018, told this newspaper she wanted to see a “taskforce” remodel the children’s services department.

She said: “Haringey’s SEND service is not operating in the way it should be. It is not involving service users. They need to start again and rebuild things and they are defensive and divisive.”

Brian, Amanda and Michelle all said they had found Haringey’s communication around direct payments – money allocated to families for everyday needs such a transport to and from school – had not been clear.

Michelle said no one had explained what could or could not be claimed.

Mary Langan, a Crouch End campaigner and chair of the Haringey Complex Needs Support Group, said the reports were clear reflections of the difficulties parents faced and added: “Information provided to families has been poor and the desperately needed personal contact just hasn’t been there for them.”

Referring to the continuing absence of a parent carer forum, she said “some families have felt abandoned”.

The newly-installed cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services – Cllr Kaushika Amin – said: “This report clearly sets out just how vital it is that we all work collaboratively together to ensure the best possible outcomes for our children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.”

She added that she was “committed to real and lasting change” and thanked everyone who had contributed to it.

A council spokesperson said Haringey had continued to engage with parents and carers during the pandemic, that anyone who had contacted the department had “bespoke and detailed” responses to their queries, and that the latest coronavirus advice had been published on the council’s website.

The Amaze report is available in full here.