We have had great difficulty in obtaining basic information about the finer details of the Independent Supporters' (IS) initiative. See our last post here.
It seems all roads lead back to the Government's funded Strategic Reform Partner, the Council for Disabled Children (CDC). However, obtaining information from the CDC has not always been easy. One of the big problems with charities taking on work for the state is that they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and we are reliant on their sense of public accountability and transparency to obtain information. For such organisations, publishing the information they want to share and answering other people's questions are, of course, very different things.
Currently, we await a response from the CDC to the questions set out in a letter to the charity SENSE. SENSE are the charity who won the contract to organise the legal training for IS. You may remember that, in respect of 11 of our 19 questions, SENSE referred us back to the CDC. You can read SENSE's response here. We understand SENSE has discussed the letter with the CDC so, hopefully, the CDC will be able to reply promptly given the importance of this information to parents.
In the meantime, we note that the CDC has published some details of the timetable to train Independent Supporters. You can read this here. It appears that IS will receive both legal training and training on their role and remit (including what to do when issues arise which are outside their remit). We also note that training on the role of IS may be made available by the CDC to local authorities but not, it seems, to parents.
We think information about the role and remit of the IS should be within the public domain and that there should be consistency nationally on the operation of this service. We think the 'local protocols' and 'Memoranda of Understanding' referred to by the CDC here should be published. We should know who is signing these agreements and what they say.
We have now written to every organisation who won a contract to deliver the IS service (save for Birmingham Parent as the link on the CDC's website is to Birmingham City Council - surely some mistake?). The list of organisations involved is set out here. Our letter can be read here and we will post all responses.
Why are we so concerned about this intiative? The lack of parental involvement is one issue but the lack of certainty about the true nature of these 'Parent Champions' is also very unfair to parents. Our concerns about IS increase when the CDC make comments like this (read here):
"There was a concern that IS may lead to an increase in tribunals. CL (Christine Lenehan, Director of the CDC) reassured the board that Independent Supporters will be working with and not against LAs and that legal training is provided to give Independent Supporters an understanding of the legal framework of the reforms, not advice on how challenge LAs on the law."
The fact that this could actually be a measure to provide additional staff for LAs during the 'transition' seems to be supported by comments found here which again appear to be from Ms Lenehan:
"It would be unrealistic to expect Local Authorities (LAs) to continue to meet the costs for all Independent Supporters, once central Government funding expires in 2016."
"TP (Toby Price of the London Borough of Sutton) mentioned the importance of marketing the IS service to LAs to ensure that they co-operate and work collaboratively with Independent Supporters. MB (Martin Bull of Independent Support) informed the board that bids for phase 1 of IS required a reference from an LA (or if multiple bids at least 1 LA). CL (Christine Lenehan) mentioned that it would be a good idea to put together a piece of work to help Independent Supporters broker good relationships with LAs and that this work should be endorsed by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS)".
We think that there needs to be clarity about the role and remit of Independent Supporters. We hope the organisations we have written to will agree.