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Question by Trudy Dean to Paul Carter, Leader of the County Council and Cabinet Member for Traded Services & Health Reform

May 23, 2019 10:21 PM

Assuming that sufficient suitably qualified staff could be recruited, will the Leader of the Council please provide an estimate of how much it would cost the County Council to appoint staff to

  1. eliminate the backlog of SEND assessment, provide the support they would require, and keep pace with current applications, and
  2. eliminate the current backlog of Deprivation of Liberty Backlog or applications and keep pace with current applications

Answer

The number of Statutory Assessments for Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans has been increasing at an unprecedented rate over the past four years and shows no signs of slowing down, similar to other local authorities. Prior to the 2014 Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Reforms we maintained approximately 6,500 EHC Plans; this now stands at approximately 12,500 to date.

This demand has also directly impacted Kent's Education Psychology (EP) Service, resulting in a 97% increase in requests for statutory advice from 2014 - 2018/19. In 2014/2015 virtually every piece of advice was completed in 6 weeks, compared to just 2% in 2018/2019. This has been compounded by staffing vacancies, and difficulties in recruitment. This is a national problem; there are insufficient EPs both now and in the training pipeline to meet demand.

Identifying the need for change in the way we work was identified prior to the Ofsted/CQC inspection and was part of the SEND Action Plan which has been used to inform the draft Written Statement of Action (WSOA).

Measures include a significant improvement to the reward package offered to EPs, while a new triage system has seen the backlog of cases held by EPs reduce to fewer than 300 cases from a peak of 650 in the summer of 2018.

We have recruited additional clerical support to free up officer time to work with families, have revised the role of SEN Provision Evaluation Officers (Specialist SEN Teachers) to quality assure the EHC plan and the delivery of inclusive practice in schools and we are piloting a new streamlined process for assessment of Early Years children who support specialist nurseries. to support joint participation meetings for early years children who attend specialist nurseries.

It is difficult at this point to specify the exact additional expenditure needed, since we will need also need to focus on other measures such as inclusive practice in schools and the impact of other partners, notably health, in contributing to delays in EHC Plans. Nonetheless, it is clear that additional recruitment will need to be part of the solution, and this is being brought forward in work on the WSOA, which once approved by OfSTED will be appropriately resourced.

In relation to part b of the question, KCC has invested £1.54m to deliver a two-year project to manage the backlog of historic Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLs) applications.

Phase 1 of the project started in February 2018 with 4000 applications within scope. Following intensive data validation, by the time the commissioned services became operational in July 2018, the number of applications had reduced. Based on the current rate of completion, it is estimated that the project would have cleared all applications within phase 1 by July 2019 (approximately 1500 applications).

To date we have spent approx. £500k to set up the DOLs backlog project, procure the assessment contract and start to clear phase 1 of the backlog.

Adult Social Care and Health (ASCH) is using the remaining investment to complete further data validation of the phase 2 backlog applications, which the project team estimate will be a further 2000 applications to complete. These will be completed using the remaining investment.

At the same time ASCH is also reviewing the current practice and processes of the DOLs office to design a sustainable service for the current number of applications and to be ready for legislative changes - Mental Capacity (Amendment Bill) - May 2020.

Some of the solutions to streamline and optimise the service include:

  • Tracking authorisations before expiry, requiring a simpler and more efficient process for re-authorisation
  • Equivalence Assessments - which will particularly benefit 'non-priority' cases (the pilot has proven very successful)
  • Implementation of Mosaic (new ASCH system to replace SWIFT)
  • Data validation as an ongoing process rather than at certain touch points

It is anticipated that the current £1.54m investment and the redesign of the DOLs office will clear the backlog and deliver an ongoing sustainable service to meet the current applications and be ready for the new legislative changes.