Preparing for Adulthood

From special school to…..?

In the SEND world, we can broadly find three categories of child/young person:

  1. Severely disabled children who will likely enter a specialist setting very early and are highly likely to require social care support throughout their lives.
  2. Children with additional needs who stay in mainstream school. They may well struggle, but they remain within their community, the “real world”.
  3. Children whose needs are such that they cannot cope in a mainstream school. They often enter specialist provision during primary school or more often in secondary school. They are often quite able, and the majority of these children will not qualify for support from adult social services.

I’d like to talk about that third cohort today. As parents, we’ve often watched our children suffer terribly, gone to hell and back to get the systems to acknowledge their needs and finally reached a blissful stage where the “right” school has been agreed by the authorities. At last, our child is safe! In my experience, while we all want to see our children reach their potential, parents of this cohort are most concerned about their child’s wellbeing. Academic progress has often been left behind and it’s only once the right school is in place that we can start thinking about that again.

Our focus then tends to go towards the present and near future – how will we support our child to catch up the academic delay that their journey caused? Does the specialist school cater for their academic potential? Not to mention the work that goes into supporting their transition into this new world, annual reviews of progress, establishing relationships with a school that is often a long way from home, trying (often in vain) to build relationships with other families so that our children can develop friendships. Moving into specialist school is by no means the end of struggle.

What we forget about is the future. And by we, I mean parents, children, school staff, caseworkers, social workers. There is talk of preparation for adulthood, but in practical terms, this is very rarely part of the “now”.

The reality for these children is that their time in specialist provision is time limited. Most of them will leave the bubble at 18 – some earlier, some not until they turn 25, but once they leave, they will find themselves in the same world as the peers they left in mainstream school. And we do not prepare them for that.

I’d like to challenge professionals, practitioners here. You work with young people all the time and are able to take a longer view. How many of you know how Universal Credit works for disabled youngsters? How many of you know how to support a young person to apply for a supported internship? Do you know which local schools or colleges offer A levels for 18 year olds? Do you know how universities can support students with disabilities? Do you know how a disabled young adult can apply for support with housing, or whether they might qualify for some support to live independently? Do you know what health care they will be able to access?

If you are a social worker, do you know whether the young person in your care has the mental capacity to manage their own direct payments? Have you had enough conversations with them to understand their needs? Will you be able to signpost them to services if they do not qualify for adult support? Are you helping them to wean off support so that the transition is not so stark? Have you supported the parents to look for community support?

And parents. We have the hardest job I think. We have spent eighteen years protecting a vulnerable child, advocating for them, ensuring that their needs were acknowledged and that the provision to which they are entitled was in place. How is it that by accident of time (their 18th birthday), the goal posts have suddenly changed? We now need to learn a whole new language: Universal Credit, Work Capability Assessments, GP relationships, new educational language, new criteria for health care, social care, all while trying to “cut the cord” and allow our young person to grow! Not to mention the common problem that friendships in specialist schools are often fleeting – how will we help our children make friends that will accompany them into adult life?

It’s a really tough period, and none of us start early enough. Worse, those of us who try to be proactive find ourselves in a holding pattern because none of the systems are ready to plan the transition in anything other than a completely theoretical manner.

It’s very tempting to try and extend the “bubble” for as long as possible. After all, SEND legislation is clear that if a young person wants to and can access education (up to level 3, or A level), they can and should remain in education until the age of 25. Can I ask you one question?

Have you sat down with your son, daughter and asked them – do they want to continue in school? Are they aware of any other choices? Their answers may frighten you. But be brave… because that moment is coming, ready or not, and those of you who are brave earlier will have equipped your children with a toolkit that is often far stronger than any “mainstream” young adult’s.

If we have to move from a cliff to the valley below (which might be scary, but may well be beautiful), we can fall, or we can build a path, however rickety. What will your and your child’s path look like?

1 thought on “From special school to…..?”

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