Hundreds of West Sussex children with special needs waiting too long for help

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Some 500 children with special needs in West Sussex are waiting too long to receive the help they need at school.

There are around 5,000 children in the county with education, health and care plans (EHCP), which detail their needs and what should be done to meet them.

While the vast majority are dealt with within the required time limits, ten per cent are not, affecting 500 youngsters with conditions such as autism.

The matter was discussed at a County Hall meeting, where Paul Wagstaff, director of education and skills, explained what was happening.

Mr Wagstaff said the council had 16 weeks to complete EHCP reviews and 20 weeks for new assessments and that the 90 per cent completion was in line with the national rate.

Adding that the West Sussex figures had been improving for two years, he said: “Sometimes it is quite difficult to get all children through in that period of time because sometimes the cases are quite complex, additional information’s required and it’s not necessarily available immediately.

“Sometimes the liaison and discussion with parents takes longer than anticipated if the parents don’t want the provision identified in the EHCP.

“So what we’re needing to do is actually try and work with those more complex cases to reduce those times.”

The committee had been discussing the council’s recent ‘inadequate’ children’s services report from Ofsted.

Chairman Michael Cloake said: “You’ve got 500 cases of children that are not getting the services they require in their schools in that timescale.

“What do we need to do as a council and as a committee to meet those 500 children within timescales that have been set nationally.

“I appreciate there are concerns and difficulties and challenges getting information but Ofsted don’t care, the child doesn’t care.

“How do we as a council meet those targets?”

Mr Wagstaff said the work was already being done and that his team hoped to hit the 95 per cent plus mark this year.

He pointed out that some things were beyond the authority’s control, such as when a parent wanted to explore all options for their child before making a decision about a school.

While determined not to cut corners to reach the targets, Mr Wagstaff added: “What we are doing is actively engaging on the ground with those parents to make sure that actually we can try and accelerate that process of decision making.

“Once those decisions are made, the process of completing is fairly swift.”