Latest news and updates
Welcome to this April edition of SEND News, featuring the stories and updates from our services and partners on how they continue to support families of children/young people with special educational needs or disabilities in times when they cant meet with them
A special welcome from Jo Fisher, Operations Director, Children & Young People of Hertfordshire County Council
We’ve been in lockdown now for over a month and I hope you are adjusting to the considerable changes it will have brought to you and your families.
We are also very aware of how many of you will be facing increased challenges at home without normal arrangements for respite care or the school support you need and we urge you to please contact your key worker or support group and reach out for support if you need it. Don’t forget the numerous online resources available as well – some are mentioned in the articles in this SEND news, and the Local Offer COVID-19 resources and CORONA VIRUS updates, are managed daily. Our services are all adapting and working in these different ways we want to ensure we stay in touch with you and share some of the key information that is being provided by both the government and our partners.
I’d also like to say how proud I am of all of our teams who are working hard to adapt to new ways of keeping in touch and supporting you.
You can read how some of them are doing this in this issue which I hope you enjoy reading. Do use the resources, guidelines and links you’ll find listed, and hope you find them useful.
Best wishes to you and your families, keep safe and keep in touch.
School transport applications due
As you will know, there is no statutory entitlement to home to school transport for young people aged 16-18 with EHCPs and families must reapply each year.
Usually in April, Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) writes to all relevant families asking them to complete a transport application form. This year however, the process has changed to online but unfortunately, due to the effects of Covid-19, the Transport team has been unable to write to families.
The Transport application forms for young people with an EHCP who are either starting or returning to 16+ education in September 2020, have been sent by email by the SEN Transport Team at HCC. Families should check their email, including the “junk” folder for the message and, if they have not received it, should email email@example.com to request a transport application form. The SEN Transport team will then resend the email. Whilst the team is receiving post, it is difficult and delayed in the current circumstances. Please apply online as this is more efficient and receipt is guaranteed.
The deadline for return of these is the end of May.
Did you know ?
The Travel Team has launched a new online training toolkit for parents to help their young person with travel training. Read more about this in our next issue, but in the meantime, follow the link on the image to their website.
Things to do in Hertfordshire
YC Hertfordshire supporting young people
With face-to-face support work currently suspended as we tackle the COVID-19 outbreak, YC Hertfordshire youth workers and personal advisers have responded by maintaining online or telephonic contact with vulnerable young people referred to the service and those on caseloads. The teams are working with schools and local councils to ensure young people, especially vulnerable young people who are at increased risk due to restrictions at this unprecedented time, still have access to support.
A range of topics that are being covered include: emotional wellbeing and managing anxiety, bullying, sexual health, managing finances and budgeting, independent living, exploring career options, applying for college and apprenticeships, and helping GCSE and A ‘Level students navigate through these uncertain times.
Online youth projects now running
As well as individual 1-1 support, the teams are delivering a range of online group projects via virtual sessions on Microsoft Teams for young people.
For example in Welwyn Garden City, a youth forum, run on Mondays 5–6pm for ages 11-17, is a group where young people can have their say about the issues affecting them and make a positive contribution to their local community.
A Friday night youth group, for ages 13-17 is held from 6-7pm for similar discussions about wellbeing, anxiety and stress, sexual health, relationships, staying safe online, bullying and education.
Find out how you can contact your local YC Hertfordshire team or take part in group sessions : Support for young people during the coronavirus outbreak
Did you know . . .?
YC Herts offer a free support text service for young people
In response to the current unprecedented situation our text service has expanded so now young people aged 13-24 can text ‘CHAT’ to 07860 057369 to receive support from a trained youth worker about any worries or concerns they have. Young people will get a response from a trained Youth Worker within 3 hours (during YC Hertfordshire Services for Young People operating times, or the next working day if outside of these times) with advice or information.
Support and Advice
SEND Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS)
As lockdown in the UK is extended, our providers of SEND services continue to look at different ways to support families.
We know that many families are struggling during this time and Hertfordshire's SEND Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS) takes the wellbeing safety of families, their children and young people, staff and partners extremely seriously.
As with many services across Hertfordshire, at SENDIASS we have also reviewed our usual ways of working to ensure the health and safety of the team and the families we support. SENDIASS (Special Educational Needs Information Advice and Support Service), provides free, confidential and impartial advice to parents/carers of children and young people (aged 0-25) with special educational needs and/or disabilities.
Although working slightly differently in some ways we are still here for you.
To reflect UK Government advice on social distancing, some of the ways SENDIASS provides support will change:
- Staff are now working remotely and not offering face to face meetings with families, both in the community or at school.
- SENDIASS will not be able to attend meetings until further notice. Wherever possible alternative ways of working are being put in place such as virtual meetings instead of face to face.
- As always, SENDIASS is contactable by email or through their helpline to ensure that families still have access to the information, advice and support you need during this difficult time.
We know some families are using this time to start a EHCP application; we can help you with this and much more. We will be posting any important information that families may benefit from on the SENDIASS website as well as on the Local Offer.
The new SENDIASS website is also now live. :-
- To ensure that children, young people (CYP) and their parents have access to timely, accurate and impartial information advice and support.
- To make information is available to CYP aged 0-25 who have special educational needs and/or disability and parents, which enables them to take part in decisions.
- To empower families to secure good working relationships with all professionals involved, ensuring that their views are heard and listened to
Contact SENDIASS on:
01992 555 847
Looking after your mental health
Having good mental health helps us relax more, achieve more and enjoy our lives more
- We know that many families are experiencing challenges and are worrying about a number of things at present.
- There are places to go to help you and your children.
- NHS provides expert advice and practical tips to help you look after your mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19.
Herts Mind Network also provides support
A mental health helpline is available to provide emotional support 24 hours a day, every day of the week for anyone experiencing mental health distress and emotions. The Crisis Helpline will provide 1:1 emotional support and signposting to other useful services.
You also can call if your mental health is impacted by the current Coronavirus outbreak.. To contact the helpline please call us on 01923 256391
The network has provided the following helpful links on their website
Crisis Helpline is open 24/7 at the moment www.hertsmindnetwork.org/crisis-helpline
Online Wellbeing through Learning Courses (HAFLS) www.hertsmindnetwork.org/Pages/Events/Category/events
Online Meeting Places www.hertsmindnetwork.org/online-meeting-places
Children and Young People – Online Groups and courses https://www.hertsmindnetwork.org/Pages/Category/young-people
Talk to a SEND educational specialist
Are you worrying about your child or facing new challenges while schools are closed because of the COVID-10 lockdown ?
You can now call a dedicated contact helpline and talk to either a Specialist Advisory Teacher in the mornings and/or an Educational Psychologist in the afternoon.
This contact line is available Monday-Friday, 10 am – 2 pm when Advisory teachers from the communication and autism team will be taking calls and from 2pm – 4pm by Education Psychologists.
The phoneline is also open to staff and schools.
Big changes to Benefits, including DLA
Are you affected by Corona Virus (COVID-19) ?
Hertfordshire County Council's Money Advice Unit (MAU) provides a library of fact sheets to help you understand your benefits and taxes.
The benefit system can seem complex at the best of times. At present, it’s probably more important than ever before to have the right information. The Council’s Money Advice Unit has produced a guide called “COVID -19: Benefits and Advice for People Affected by Coronavirus”, covering regularly updated information on social security, the Job Retention and Self-Employment Schemes and much else besides.
The MAU webpages also contains updated benefit guides for children with disabilities, young people, and foster carers and adopters. The Unit is still taking referrals e.g. for the Children with Disability project, but will be assisting by phone and email only for the time being.
In particular, the DWP have announced that all disability benefit reviews and reassessments have been temporarily suspended until at least the end of June. This temporary measure, affecting DLA, PIP and ESA claims, is being taken to reassure people about the continuity of their benefits during the coronavirus outbreak and to ensure the DWP’s resources are focused on enabling access to financial support for new claimants. It follows a previous announcement to suspend all face-to-face assessments of new claims, in order to safeguard potentially vulnerable claimants and DWP or disability assessment staff.
What this means in practice is that new claims for DLA, PIP and ESA can still be made, but will be decided mainly by what’s on the claim form, any supporting evidence and possibly a phone conversation with the claimant (if 16+) or their parent. Even appeals will be decided that way and not by a personal appearance. Young people approaching 16 will not be assessed for PIP until July at the earliest, and their existing DLA will carry-on.
Visit www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/benefits for all the MAU factsheets.
More ideas for support during lockdown . . .
Work out from home with Herts Sports Partnership
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and everyone being asked to stay at home, we have put together a suite of tools, resources and more importantly, activities, to help keep everyone moving. Whether you need ideas for getting active, coping from a mindfulness perspective or are involved with a club and aren’t sure what the next few months might mean for you, we want to support you, and your next steps. https://sportinherts.org.uk/workoutfromhome/
Learning with BBC Bitesize – A SEND Toolkit
Due to the significant impact of the COVID-19/Corona Virus situation on children, young people and their families, BBC is providing new daily lessons on their Bitesize website here. They’re adding three new lessons every weekday for each year. Pick yours and get started at https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize
There is also a parents’ SEND tool kit where you can find practical SEND resources, activities and support to help you and your family during lockdown.
National Autistic society Coronavirus: guidance and resources
We know many autistic people and their families have concerns about the current situation with coronavirus (COVID-19). We’re here for you and have developed resources and handy top tips for dealing with its impact.
We are really pleased that the Government has listened to the voices of autistic people and their families and amended national guidance on how often some people can leave their home during the coronavirus outbreak. Read this and more of the latest updates on topics including, health, social care and education.
You will also find real life examples of challenges autistic people and their families are facing as well as more details of how we can help.
Council for disabled children: Coronavirus information for families with disabled children
From general advice and benefits to your child’s education and tips and links to help you cope at home, you can find out the latest information, support and advice about Coronavirus and its impact on families with disabled children on the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) new Covid-19 (coronavirus) webpage. Take a look to find out more about:
The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families . . .
...wants to do all they can to minimise the impact of current restrictions and so are giving clear, simple advice to all those who are supporting children and young people - and to young people themselves".
Download the Anna Freud Centre's PDFs of advice for young people, parents and carers, families and for professionals working with children and young people.
Guidance for parents about taking their child to hospital
There have been media reports around parents having to make the difficult decisions around whether or not they bring their children into hospital when they’re unwell.
Footfall in children’s A&E has reduced dramatically and hospitals are seeing children attending later in the progress of their health that is non-Covid related need than they would otherwise.
New guidance on this is now available - click on the poster on the right to download it.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has lots of information on their website here
KIDS HUBS go online
The Hertfordshire KIDS HUBs is providing ‘business as usual’ in different ways during the Covid 19 restrictions. For example, new referrals and one to one support, with subjects ranging from sleep support to starting a new EHCP application and completing benefit forms is now happening over the phone and via video call when possible. The private facebook group is a useful place for parents to find tips and ideas to keep kids busy and help families cope with the current situation as well as keep in touch with other parents. Information about domestic violence and wellbeing support are examples.
Although there are no stay and play sessions, if parents/carers need any specialist equipment to help them cope in these difficult times they can contact KIDS HUBS who will do their best to make some reasonable arrangements for them to safely pick up the items.
KIDS HUBS are also taking practical steps to support families help their children adapt to new and unfamiliar routines by printing and posting resources for families to create visual timetables, social stories, now and next boards, pictures and symbols, to help families who can’t print things at home.
Find their details on the Local Offer here
How Herts Parent/Carer Involvement is supporting families
We spoke to Helen Errington, Chair of Hertfordshire Parent/Carer Involvement, (HPCI) to find out more about some of the work HPCI is doing to support families of children or young people with SEND
Tell us a bit about HPCI’s role generally?
Herts Parent Carer Forum (HPCI) is an independent parent/carer led organisation which aims to improve services for children and young people aged 0-25 years who have special educational needs and/or disabilities. We try to do this by ensuring that family voices are heard by service planners and decision makers. This means that we are present at Local Authority and Health strategic and operational meetings to put forward the parent/carer voice to those who are responsible for designing and delivering services for children and young people with SEND and their families. We also consult with our members to find out what they think of services and any improvements they can suggest for us to put forward for consideration and discussion. We also aim to try and keep our members informed about all matters SEND.
How have you altered how you work to adapt to the Covid-19 crisis?
HPCI staff and Board members are parent/carers of children and young people with SEND most of whom are considered vulnerable and so they are at home shielding them as much as is possible for the suggested 12 week period. There are a couple of us who have adult children and are finding it easier than most to take part in local authority virtual meetings. HPCI Board had their last meeting at the end of March by web conference and we intend to have a catch up meeting at the end of April in the same way. I anticipate that our May Board meeting will also be by web conference. We hope soon to send out a short survey to all our members to find out how they are coping and what issues they want us to raise with the local authority during this time.
There must be many challenges facing families you deal with during these times – can you describe any of them?
It is very difficult for families in lots of different ways. Many children aren’t able to access school, even those with an EHCP, and this disruption to routines really impacts children with SEND. It may mean they can’t access therapies, activities or equipment that is vital for their health or wellbeing. It is going to be harder for some children with SEND to access any education through online resources, and it is important all schools understand this. In addition lots of children who need extra care or support in the community are finding that specialist playschemes and activities have been closed, and while carers are classed as essential workers, for families having to shield or self-isolate, this means they aren’t able to access that support. Some families are really struggling to cope without access to family and friends to help out, and this is particularly difficult when families have more than one child with SEND. Explaining the reason for all the changes in ways in which children with learning disabilities can understand is very difficult particularly when there is no clear end point. Frustrations and distress are increasing which puts even more pressures on families who are already struggling. The impact on siblings is massive too.
Another challenge for many families who have children with dietary needs or a restricted diet, is how hard it is to access certain foods, with shortages in supermarkets of some foods and the closure of restaurants, particularly children with ARFID.
For all parents of children with SEND and particularly those with children with medical needs it is a very stressful time, trying to explain the current situation to children at the same time as manage their anxiety and their own fears, and look after their own mental health. Finding any time at all for parent carers to look after their own wellbeing is difficult, accessing the wealth of good advice that is available just isn’t possible for some.
What type of support and advice are you giving to parents/carers at present?
We are directing all parent /carers to the Local Offer website COVID-19 page for up to date information on a range of topics. We are also in contact with HCC asking for clarification on many issues that parents are raising with us and making sure that answers are being added to the Local offer pages. HPCI have just set up our own COVID-19 web page but this is really to direct parents to sources of support and information that they might find useful at this time. We also have sent out emails to our members with updates and are regularly posting items on our Facebook page
Is there any advice or suggestions you’d like to share with parents/carers or professionals?
These are very unusual and strange times, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or reach out to contact people in similar positions if you need to. There is a danger that families aren’t asking for the support their child needs because they think that dealing with Coronavirus takes priority, and we keep being told we are all in this together. But the impact for families of children with SEND is as always greater than the general population, so please do ask for help if you need it.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the information being provided from so many organisations trying to help, so choose a small number of reliable sources and check in from time to time.
If you'd like to join HPCI or find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website here.
Carers in Herts adapts to continuing its support during COVID-19
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Carers in Hertfordshire is adapting their service to ensure parent/carers can continue to access the information, advice and support they need.
Groups are not running at present, but advisers remain on hand to provide parents/carers with support. Their opening hours remain unchanged with most of the services now done online and over the phone.
You can contact a carers support adviser on 01992 58 6969 Monday to Thursday 9.30am to 5pm and Friday 9am to 4.30pm. You can also email email@example.com
Christine Gillham, Information and Carer Planning Service Manager highlights the activity still happening -
If you would like to access a Carers in Hertfordshire service, or would like some help with finding the right support for you and your child please do get in touch with them.
Things to do
Short breaks in Hertfordshire
One of the difficulties facing parents and carers with SEND children and young people during the COVID-19 lockdown has been that attending actual short break activities as usual has not been possible.
However, providers are displaying some most creative ways of supporting families and still 'bringing the activities to them'.
What are short breaks?
The short breaks local offer (SBLO) is provided for families with children and young people with SEND, to give them the chance to spend time out with others socialising and doing fun activities. This gives the vulnerable families a break with the knowledge that their child is safe and well supported by a trained worker. Normally, activities range from play and leisure activities provided through community groups to overnight adventure activities such as camping. They include both holidays and weekend clubs.
Today however, with the social distancing measures we are all adhering to, most of these activities had to be suspended. This may pose an increased risk of social isolation for vulnerable children and families so these are the times where our most vulnerable people in social care need more support.
SBLO providers have not let them down. We have seen tremendous efforts deployed by many sectors to ensure people stay safe and well and our SBLO providers have gone the extra mile. They are working hard to bring a new virtual offer to families and to make sure that children can still enjoy meaningful activities and have fun in their own home.
Follow the links below to see what some of our providers and families have been doing
Applications for SBLO via the HCC SBLO portal have been suspended because SBLO providers are unable to safely run SBLO Holiday clubs and activities due during these current circumstances. To access the providers' alternative online or telephone offers, please contact them directly, or follow their social media accounts. These activities are free so no prior booking via the SBLO website is required.
Short breaks in Hertfordshire – CHIPS
CHIPS (Broxbourne & East Herts) online offer has included no cost fun activities such as:
- Online games, activities , challenges
- Recipe of the week - Every week a contest/challenge takes place with a recipe or a lego model for children to make. Families are then invited to share the results with pictures
- Competition of the week - Easter was fun! and there was making a Lego model, a junk model and the best train track layout. Thanks to easter egg donations from #Waitrose, CHIP staff were able to deliver sweet treats to children and their homes
- AC Education -online training has produced a document ‘Understanding Anxiety ‘.to help parents understand and support their children’s anxieties around the current situation
- Time capsule - encouraging parents and children to record what activities they are doing during this period and their feelings , to look back on in the future
The team of course make regular telephone calls to the parents to check in on them.
Details here on how to contact CHIPS https://chipsplay.org/contact-us/
and more lockdown tips on their website here
Short breaks in Hertfordshire – SNAP (St Albans MENCAP)
SNAP (St Albans MenCap for Dacorum, St Albans and Wel/Hat)
were still able to support a week's Easter holiday club at Southfield School, to offer 1:1 support to children but also to support school staff looking after key workers' children. SNAP are planning to repeat this support over the May half term and in the summer.
And in the virtual world.... there is lots of fun to be had
An online drama workshop had 21 children attending . . .
|Here's one of the happy participants in the online drama class
||Online cooking sessions also drew lots of interest
And on a Wednesday you'll find online music session and craft sessions on Thursdays. Find out more by contacting them at http://www.stalbansmencap.org.uk/contact
Here's some of the positive feedback from parents
Short breaks in Hertfordshire - Noah's Ark (Hertsmere MENCAP)
Noah's Ark staff have also been very busy
|Completing the checklist for a visit
to the park!
|Another happy customer designing a fan!
Staff have sent or delivered over 50 activity packs for young people, which also means they are able to have a chat (at a safe distance!) with some parents/carers, which has been welcomed by them.
Included in the packs are a ‘make your own fan’ which were sent with all the bits necessary and a guidance sheet. Noah's Ark have shared the guidance sheet here. Also in the pack is an emoji chart - a fun way for parents/carers to find out how a young person is feeling – download a copy here.
Noah's Ark online activities include:
Stories using Makaton
Signed song videos
Short Breaks in Hertfordshire - North Herts CVS
NHCVS Breakaway has made some online videos and stories
In this video Sam from Breakaway introduces their virtual programmes to families
Breakaway's online platform will be uploaded with a variety of content including
- Videos for fun and easy activities to do at home
- Animal time – facts and fun about our pets
- Exercise and movement and singalong sessions
- Sign language sessions
- Provide a guide outlining all the appropriate online resources that are available for SEND children and their families
- Potential for online gaming with a Playworker
- Youtube channel with arts & crafts and fun activities to do at home, body movement and singalong.
28 activity packs were delivered, along with Easter eggs.
The packs also included ideas to support sensory play.
The team will check in regularly with families over the phone to see how they are and if they need more ideas or activity packs
Short breaks in Hertfordshire – Jubilee House
Jubilee House, one of Hertfordshire's three respite centres is still providing overnight short breaks
Jubilee House is still providing day care activities to the children attending the overnight break and provided sessions throughout the Easter holidays at Peartree. In the lovely Easter weather, the young people were able to have fun in the garden,making the most of the sunshine.
Jubiliee is still providing families with much needed respite when the staffing is available, much to the relief of one family who said . . .
"it is amazing what Peartree are doing and we are so thankful we are able to still access sessions."
Watford Mencap extends its reach across Hertfordshire
Watford Mencap is open every day with online and telephone advice helpline support for people with learning disabilities and their families
Call 01923 713632
Some good news is, it has extended its geographic reach to the whole of Hertfordshire during this Covid-19 outbreak and is now working 7 days a week, providing great support such as
- Where to find information
- Help with basic essentials
- Applying for benefits
- Housing issues and
- An exciting library of online activities
Watford Mencap has also helped families by providing food boxes and even Easter eggs for children. Local business has helped with donations of personal protective equipment for Hertfordshire's children's workforce
Follow Watford Mencap on Facebook for daily updates and good news stories or on Twitter