Haringey Council SEND failures: 'Some parents are on antidepressants'

Amanda Bernard (inset) said parents need "truth and reconciliation"

Amanda Bernard (inset) said parents need "truth and reconciliation" - Credit: Polly Hancock/Haringey Council

Haringey Council has been told that its poor treatment of families whose children have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has left some parents on antidepressants.

The stark warning was made by a local parent carer who called the “culture” of ignoring SEND families an accumulation of “decades of failures”.

Amanda Bernard’s comments were made to the council’s children and young people's scrutiny panel on Thursday (November 18).

The meeting was held following an Ofsted report in October which published “serious concerns” over the local authority’s longstanding struggles with SEND services. 

Amanda called for parent carers to “have a seat on the table” and warned the town hall it must better engage with poorer families whose first language may not be English.

She said: “We’re in a position where Ofsted have produced this report and it’s almost like we’ve got 70 days to fix over five decades’ worth of failures.  

“It isn’t a criticism towards Haringey in the sense that’s it’s ‘them vs us’, the culture has come about because of the treatment that families have received. 

Amanda Bernard, a parent carer from Haringey

Amanda Bernard, a parent carer from Haringey - Credit: Amanda Bernard

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“We do have advocates in the council but it’s like having a lion without teeth, and the lion is expected to go out and defend the realm.” 

The Ofsted report described waiting times for autism assessments as “unacceptable” – in some cases took longer than two years.  

Education, health and care plans (EHCPs) were labelled “poor” and inspectors found a lack of partnership with parents. 

Strengths cited in the report included “good” academic outcomes, “inclusive” early years’ settings and “clear” priorities. 

However Amanda said persistently poor services had taken a heavy toll on young people, and their families.  

“There are parents on antidepressants because of their personal situation and unfortunately it is because of the borough council,” she said.  

Amanda continued: “We have not got anywhere we can be listened to, appreciated and heard. The bottom line is that we need truth and reconciliation.  

“There are parents out there who are livid and stressed. That is then passed on to the children and young people, so it’s a vicious cycle.” 

Cllr Josh Dixon, a Liberal Democrat opposition member of the scrutiny panel, said: “Haringey Council’s continual failure to take account of the needs of SEND children and parents is abysmal.

Cllr Josh Dixon

Cllr Josh Dixon - Credit: Haringey Liberal Democrats

“Throughout my tenure as a councillor and a scrutiny panel member, parents have made the same points again and again, but no one in a position of power is willing to listen. These parents and young people deserve so much better than this.  

“Sadly, nothing l have seen leads me to think that Labour councillors, who have been running this failing service for decades, are ready to end their ‘we know best approach’ and finally engage with the people who understand this service best.” 

Cllr Zena Brabazon, Haringey’s cabinet member for early years, children and families, said she agreed with Amanda’s damning assessment of its SEND services, which followed “decades of mistrust”.

“I understand why people are angry,” the Labour councillor said. “I understand and empathise with why people feel that bureaucracies often don’t listen to them.  

“It’s not always true because these are very complex circumstances and individuals will have different experiences.  

“But in the round I absolutely understand that we should be working in that way and I agree that parents are the best professionals about their children.”

Cllr Zena Brabazon

Cllr Zena Brabazon - Credit: Haringey Council/David Mirzoeff

Cllr Brabazon called the Ofsted inspection a “fair assessment” with “pluses and minuses”. She continued: “The relationship with parents is absolutely at the heart of how we deliver SEND. 

“You cannot do it without the families, it must be with the families and I know that the team in place is absolutely, as I am, committed to that way of working, that works with families.” 

The council's education chief added: “There are lot of things happening [that the council is doing] but we do have a hill to climb because we have to have greater trust, and that has to come in learning together and shaping policies together.” 

Haringey Council is due to submit a written statement of action to Ofsted outlining how it will improve its SEND services.