Setting them up to fail

As mediators, its our job to find acceptable ways forward for all parties in a dispute, and so it was quite a surprise recently when during my debrief with a fellow mediator, I heard him saying “You were set up to fail here – there was no possible solution!”
Whilst this isn’t the first time I have been in a room with no manoeuvre, this was markedly different and through this article, I want to explore the situation and get support from colleagues about how we might tackle the issue, or perhaps learn to live with the failure!
We all understand that education is at the heart of an EHCP and that it’s the trigger, legally speaking, for a plan to be initiated. If there is a recognisable special educational need, but no problem with the child / young person’s access and progress within education, then there is usually no need for an EHCP, regardless of any health or social care needs (which are also part of the plan, but not apparently as important).
The delegated budget to schools often means that the needs of SEN children / young people are met without further recourse. Some additional support is offered and the child / young person progresses well.
But what happens when children / young people are not in school / attendance is sporadic because of their health? I seem to be seeing more cases like this, where the young person (in all three cases, a male teenager) has behavioural / mental health problems, and either refusing school or unable to attend.
In each case, there is little evidence of progression or not – mainly because of their non-attendance. In all three cases, these young men were bright, and likely, despite non-attendance, to be average or above if tests and baselines were done, but not reaching their potential because of their other problems.
In all three cases, the frustrations of parents at the lack of support for their children was plain, and as a result, in each case, though the Local Authority were sympathetic, I could see defences rising as they were berated by parents for failing their children to reach their potential rather than the average.
So I had two problems as a mediator – one was the problem of the law and structure of the EHCP process, as without an educational need, an EHCP would not be forthcoming, and yet in each case, these young men had been out of education for a long time (in one case, nearly 3 years).  The second was the natural frustrations and layers of emotions that parents and Local Authorities representatives felt at the impossibility of the dispute and any resolution for the young person, either in the form of an EHCP or more importantly, access to further specialist services that might help.
Who will or can support these young people to re – engage with education? CAMHS were involved in all three cases but limited in their support and not able, it seemed, to help from an educational perspective. School’s role was limited – as it often is – with children who are on roll but not often in school, and the host of agencies that support excluded / truanting children are also not particularly appropriate.
In all three cases, there was no specialist educational support for young people who have mental health problems and no diagnosis of any other illness / disability.
Am I missing something, colleagues? Or is this a gap in the system which sets these young people up to fail despite them being brighter than average before the onset of their mental health problems, and sets us, as mediators, up to fail, because there are no answers?
Cheryl Turner
October 2015.
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