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Shropshire children "waiting too long" for disability and special needs assessments

Children in Shropshire are left waiting too long for assessments of disabilities and special needs while others experience lengthy delays in receiving mental health treatment, inspectors have found.

The health and children’s services watchdogs say young people are not getting the help they need as a result of “significant areas of weakness” in the area.

Shropshire Council and Shropshire and Telford’s Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have now been told to draw up a Written Statement of Action detailing how they plan to address the problems.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) identified a string of concerns following a joint inspection at the end of January to assess whether legally required disability and special needs reforms were being implemented successfully in the county.

But while a number of strengths were acknowledged, inspectors found that leadership across the area was “weak” and action plans for improving services were incomplete.

A letter outlining the findings of the inspection said: “Children and young people over five years old wait too long for a specialist assessment for autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Area leaders do not have a robust plan to address this. As a result, many children experience significant waits and are not having their needs met within an acceptable time frame.

“Children and young people experience significant waits for speech and language assessment and treatment.

“The current speech and language therapy service specification is not fit for purpose. Consequently, the service is not meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND in the area.”

Waiting times for some types of mental health treatment were also said to be “too long”.

The letter said action plans had no measurable success criteria and lacked completeness, limiting leaders’ ability to make improvements.

It added: “This is a significant gap and means that children and young people do not get the help and support that they need.”

Inspectors said improvements had been made in education, health and care (EHC) plans for individual children, but that the quality of information was inconsistent and sometimes unclear and that the plans were not always updated in a timely way.

The letter praised the academic progress made by children with EHC plans and said most vulnerable children with additional needs “achieve positive outcomes”.

The council and CCGs must now prepare a Statement of Action addressing the areas of “significant weakness”.

The council and CCG said the areas of concern were being worked on.

A joint statement from Karen Bradshaw, Shropshire Council’s acting interim chief executive and executive director of childrens services, and Claire Parker, director of partnerships for Shropshire CCG, said: “We have carefully considered the inspectors’ report and welcome the fact that it identifies a number of strengths and good work that Shropshire Council, the CCG, education settings and other partners are doing to help and support children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) in Shropshire.

“However, we recognise that we don’t yet get everything right and acknowledge that there are some SEND services and support that require development and we want to assure parents that professionals across Shropshire are committed to providing the best possible support for our children and young people.

“As requested, we will now be providing a Written Statement of Action. This enables us to reflect on the reported areas for development and compile an action plan detailing how we intend to address the weaknesses identified in the report.

“We want to reassure all parents and carers of children and young people with SEND that we are committed to providing the best possible education and care for their children, and will continue to do so.”

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