Chapter 7 Working with children and families
1. This chapter of the code describes how children, young people and their parents can be successfully involved in education and learning and describes the Act's provisions regarding supporters and advocacy.
2. All children and young people should have the opportunity to make their views known about decisions which affect them. They should have the opportunity to express their opinions and have these opinions taken seriously. They should be encouraged to contribute to decision-making processes, the setting of educational objectives, the preparation of learning plans, reviews and transition planning. They need to know that what they have to say will be respected, listened to and, where appropriate, acted on.
3. Parents must also be encouraged and have the opportunity to be involved fully in discussions and decisions about their child's learning. Most parents want what is best for their children and have unique knowledge and experience to contribute to understanding and meeting their child's additional support needs. They, therefore, have a key role to play in their child's education and account must be taken of their views and the perspective they bring.
4. Professionals need to involve parents and take account of their views on their child's development and education at the earliest opportunity. Partnership with parents is, therefore, central to ensuring that children and young people with additional support needs benefit fully from school education. The Act serves to strengthen further the involvement of children, young people and their parents in working with authorities to reach decisions which are best for children's and young people's learning.
Views of children and young people
5. The 2000 Act places a duty upon education authorities, where they are responsible for the school education of a child or young person, to secure that the education is directed towards the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential. In so doing, the authority must, so far as is reasonably practicable, have regard to the views of children and young people (if there is a wish to express them) in decisions that significantly affect their education.
6. The Act builds on the above duty by placing a duty on the education authority to seek and take account of views of children and young people as the authority consider appropriate under specific circumstances. These circumstances include where the authority are seeking to establish whether the child or young person has additional support needs and when they are determining what additional support the child or young person may require. The authority have some discretion in whether they seek the views of such children or young people. The purpose of this provision is, primarily, to avoid over-formalising the dialogue between professionals, teachers especially, and children and young people by requiring the authority to take account of, and record, children's and young people's views every time they are considering whether children or young people have additional support needs. All children should be encouraged to take part in personal learning planning processes and in discussing, monitoring and evaluating their learning. It is expected that, except under exceptional circumstances, children and young people who have additional support needs should have the opportunity to discuss their needs and the support to be provided to meet those needs.
7. In addition to the general good practice in involving children and young people in making decisions about their school education, under the Act an education authority must seek, and take account of the views of children and young people (unless the child or young person is not able to provide a view; then the views of the parents are sought) when they are:
- establishing whether a co-ordinated support plan is required
- preparing a co-ordinated support plan
- reviewing whether the child or young person still requires a co-ordinated support plan.
8. In order to express views, children and young people need to have experience of being asked for their views, being listened to, making some choices and having some influence over what they do. Schools and early years settings should create a climate where seeking children's views and encouraging participation in decision-making are part of everyday activities. It should be noted that the Act does not require the education authority to have parental consent before seeking and taking account of children's views. Even where the parents do not wish their child's views to be sought the education authority are still under a duty to seek and take account of the child's views; where a child is concerned, education authorities are to seek and take account of the views of both the child and the parent unless they are satisfied that the child lacks the capacity to express a view. In that event, the views of the parent only are to be sought. In the case of a young person, if the education authority are satisfied that the young person lacks the capacity to express a view, then it is only to seek and take account of the views of the young person's parent.
9. Some children and young people with additional support needs will be able to express themselves clearly and directly. All they may need are the opportunities and the encouragement to do so. Others may need support with communication or to gain confidence to express their views. Very few will be unable to express a view at all.
10. The education authority may have to make specific arrangements to seek out the views of some children and young people such as, for example, children with complex communication support needs. They may need to make arrangements for those who require an interpreter; or whose first language is not English; or who have behavioural difficulties and are unwilling to co-operate. But it is just as important and relevant for these children and young people to have their views listened to as it is for those who can more easily express views. A range of approaches will need to be considered to determine their views including, for example, the use of alternative or augmentative communication systems, including signing, the use of interpreters, and engaging the views of others such as family members, foster carers, social workers and other professionals who know the child or young person.
Jamie is 13 years old and has depression. A meeting was convened to discuss his additional support needs but he made it clear that he would not attend. He agreed with his guidance teacher that a video could be made of them discussing what additional support he would find helpful.
Communication with children and young people
11. Good communication with children and young people is essential in order to enable them to influence decisions about their learning. This applies equally to education generally and at specific points related to matters concerning co-ordinated support plans. There are many reasons why a child or young person may have difficulty in expressing his/her views. For example, communication with young children requires a range of different strategies which could include play, art, and the use of audio and video technology. Education authorities should take account of the good practice points at the end of this chapter.
12. Representatives of appropriate agencies may be able to provide guidance and support to children and young people to help them express their views. They may also be able to provide guidance and support to other people involved in meetings to help them access the best method of communication. For example, a speech and language therapist may offer guidance on the best communication approach to use to ensure that the child or young person understands the discussion and on how best to facilitate and support his/her response.
13. When noting views, particularly where the child or young person has communication support needs, it is helpful to consider two factors. Firstly, what the child or young person actually expressed, whether through speech, in writing, audio recording, sign or other form of communication such as facial expression or body posture. Secondly, what interpretation was made of the child's or young person's view and by whom. Both should be noted.
Taking account of views
14. Having sought the child's or young person's views, and recorded what these are, education authorities need to consider what weight to give to them. Taking account of these views does not mean education authorities have to accept and implement everything. At the same time, once sought and expressed, these views should not be disregarded and due weight should be given with consideration of the following:
- the child's or young person's capacity to understand the information on which his/her views were based
- the ability of the child or young person to express his/her own views
- the child's or young person's understanding of the range of options
- how well the people reporting the child's or young person's views know him/her.
15. It is important that a balance is struck between what a child or young person may want and what is realistic and appropriate. Where an education authority are unable to act on a child's or young person's views, reasons for this should be provided to them as appropriate.
Children and young people who lack capacity
16. The Act refers to children and young people who may lack capacity to do something for any of the following reasons: where they are incapable of doing something by reason of mental illness, developmental disorder, or learning disability, or are unable to communicate because of a physical disability. However, the Act makes it clear that children or young people should not be treated as lacking capacity by reason only of a lack or deficiency of communication where an alternative means of communication or interpretation, human or technological/mechanical, would assist the child or young person to make his/her views known.
17. The question of whether children or young people have the capacity to do something must be considered at each stage of their involvement. When asked for a view, the child's or young person's capacity should be judged at that point and in relation to their ability to express a view with regard to the particular circumstances. For example, it should not be assumed that because children lack the capacity to request the authority to establish whether they have additional support needs that they lack the capacity to understand, or hold a view on, the support considered appropriate.
Young people who may lack capacity
18. Questions of capacity arise particularly for young people, that is, people aged 16 or over but who are not yet 18. Young people enjoy the same rights as parents under the Act unless they are considered to lack capacity to exercise their rights. It is, therefore, important to consider carefully whether in individual cases a young person may lack capacity. The Act, as amended, provides a test which authorities can use to determine whether a young person lacks capacity.
19. The Act requires education authorities to publish and keep up-to-date certain information about a range of matters concerned with additional support needs, as described in paragraph 21 below. In particular, the Act, as amended, requires education authorities to provide all parents of all children with additional support needs (and young people with additional support needs), for whose school education the authority are responsible, with all the information authorities are required to publish.
20. The Act, as amended, specifies that where the education authority are satisfied that the young person lacks the capacity to understand the information which is published under the Act, that information should be sent instead to the young person's parent. The test to be used by education authorities in establishing whether a young person lacks capacity relates to the young person's ability to understand the information published.
21. The Act, as amended, requires an education authority to publish information about:
- the authority's policy in relation to provision for additional support needs
- the authority's arrangements for identifying children and young people with additional support needs and those who may require a co-ordinated support plan together with the particular additional support needs of those so identified
- the role of parents, children and young people in any of these arrangements
- arrangements for monitoring and reviewing the adequacy of additional support for children and young people with additional support needs
- arrangements for independent mediation services, including details of the service and how to access it
- procedures for dispute resolution, including details of the service and how it may be accessed
- the officer(s) in the authority from whom parents of children having additional support needs, or young people who have these needs, can obtain further information and advice
- information about any NHS Board in their area or part of the area from whom parents of children having additional support needs, or young people who have these needs, can obtain further information and advice 57
- such other recognised agencies or organisations that can provide further support, information and advice to parents and young people that it considers appropriate, including information about support and advocacy.
- any other persons specified in an order made by the Scottish Ministers from which parents and young people can obtain further advice, information and support in relation to the provision for additional support needs, including information about support and advocacy.
22. Clearly in applying the test, as to whether the young person is able to understand this information, the education authority will discuss the matter with the young person, where possible and appropriate, and certainly with those who know the young person well, such as the parents, and those who have the professional expertise to assess his/her capacity to understand the information published by the education authority under the Act. To demonstrate capacity, it is not necessary for the young person to be able to read through the published information nor is it even necessary for the young person to be able to demonstrate detailed knowledge about all of the published information. However, if the young person has to make decisions on his/her own behalf then he/she must be able to understand how the education authority makes provision for additional support needs and what his/her rights and responsibilities under the Act are. Some young people with additional support needs will be able to understand the published information without requiring much, if any, help. Others will be able to understand it if an adult spends time discussing it with them. Clearly there will be others who will not be able understand the published information irrespective of the support provided. In these circumstances to demonstrate lack of capacity the education authority have to satisfy themselves that the young person is unable to understand the information, in which case the parent is responsible for acting on the young person's behalf under the Act.
The role of parents
23. The Act allows parents to speak and act for their child, or young person, where the child or young person lacks capacity to express a view. Nevertheless, it is important to continue to support the child's or young person's participation in decision-making, at an appropriate level, at the same time as seeking the views of their parents.
24. Those who are closest to the child or young person can often give an informed view on whether or not he/she can understand a particular matter. These could include parents, foster carers, teachers, allied health professionals or social workers. A speech and language therapy assessment of comprehension should inform this process where there are differences in opinion or significant uncertainty about comprehension. The education authority should consider all these views when being called on to make a decision about capacity. It is best to reach such decisions by consensus recording clearly why such a view was reached and how it was arrived at. Where a parent, child or young person disagrees with the authority's decision this should be recorded.
25. An education authority will also need to take note of the arrangements for decision-making under the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 and any persons with legal powers in respect of an adult for whom the authority is providing school education. An adult under this legislation is someone aged 16 and over.
Good practice in communicating with children and young people
A child or young person may benefit from:
Issues related to language:
26. All professionals, schools, education authorities and appropriate agencies should seek actively to involve parents in their work with children. They should recognise and value parents' unique contribution, take their views into consideration and regard them as vital partners in their children's learning. Professionals must take responsibility for encouraging good relationships with families based on trust, openness and effective communication. Education staff and other professionals must work together to ensure that they give clear, honest and consistent messages to parents. For example, parents may need to be given support and information to help them understand their rights and those of their child; or, where appropriate, given an explanation of one purpose of a co-ordinated support plan as being a tool for co-ordinating support rather than a key to accessing services; or provided with explanations of the types of support provided by allied health professionals 58 . The Act serves to strengthen further the involvement of children, young people and their parents in working with authorities to reach decisions which are best for children's and young people's learning. This can be best achieved by strong relationships, good communication and when parents share an understanding of the framework, planning arrangements and systems of support available.
27. In good practice, authorities and other agencies will ensure that parents are fully aware of the processes for assessing and providing for children's additional support needs, understand the planning approaches and are familiar with the support services available from the school, the education authority and from other agencies, including voluntary organisations. Wherever possible, a partnership approach should be extended to include older children and young people.
28. Access to information and advice is central. The Act requires education authorities to publish information about certain specified matters as noted in paragraph 21. They should ensure, in discharging their statutory information duties, that they use accessible language and take account of the young person's and parents' rights to information and advice about the authority's provision for additional support needs. Some young people and parents may need information presented in permanent forms other than writing such as by using audio or video technology. The authority should have a named contact person for additional support needs who can provide parents with information on the availability of supporters and advocates. Education authorities should also be aware of the valuable role the voluntary sector has in supporting parents and should aim to establish links and support effective working, wherever possible.
Working with children and families
Naomi, aged 6, lives with her father John and 4 older brothers and sisters. She sees her mum only very occasionally as she lives in England. Naomi has additional support needs arising from a number of factors: she finds it difficult to concentrate for long periods in class and she gets extra support to help keep her on task. She is in a nurture class in school and also attends a small communication group run by the speech and language therapist. The family has a social worker.
The school has regular meetings with John to discuss her progress and her targets in her IEP. Due to the difficult family circumstances, John has been asked when and where he would like meetings to take place, whether he wants written as well as spoken accounts of Naomi's progress, and whether he wants to bring a friend or relative with him to meetings. The school have taken time to explain about Naomi's additional support needs and how they, the local authority and speech and language therapist are supporting Naomi. John has been asked what help he thinks Naomi needs and what type of help he and others can give her at home. Suggestions for what he can do at home are discussed and included in Naomi's IEP. He has been given the contact details for Enquire as somewhere he can go for independent advice. He has also been informed that there is a free local advocacy service which can help him prepare and support him in getting his points across at meetings. At the beginning of each meeting, John is asked for his views on Naomi's progress and asked if he has any questions or concerns. His views are taken into account and reflected in any future targets and plans for Naomi. At times, the school and other professionals disagree with him but a compromise is reached which respects his views and understanding of Naomi's needs. This is explained clearly to John to ensure that he understands not only why any decision is taken but also what he can do, if he still disagrees with it. He is made fully aware of rights under the Additional Support for Learning Act.
As well the IEP meetings, the Deputy Head in the school calls John every fortnight to let him know how Naomi is getting on, and makes a point of mentioning good progress as well as any issues that are being addressed. He is invited in for an informal coffee morning with other parents every month. There is home/school diary which keeps him informed of Naomi's daily progress
Supporters and advocacy
29. Supporters and advocates can help by making sure that a parent's or young person's view is understood, put across and taken account of in discussions where parents or young people feel unable or less confident to do so themselves.
30. The Act provides young people and parents with the right to have a supporter or advocate present at any discussions or meetings with an education authority in regard to the authority's functions under the Act. Education authorities should, as a matter of good practice, make parents and young people aware of this right and how they can find out how to access such services.
31. The education authority must comply with the wish to have a supporter or advocate present unless the wish is unreasonable. Judgements about what an education authority may view to be unreasonable will depend very much on the particular circumstances being considered. An education authority may consider it unreasonable to include a supporter or advocate in discussions where the supporter or advocate is unable to represent the parent or young person appropriately. In such circumstances, the education authority should provide the parent or young person with their reasons for taking this view and for deciding that a particular supporter or advocate should not be present during discussions.
32. Although a child does not have a right to have a supporter or advocate present, and the education authority does not have a duty to allow it, there is nothing to stop a child making such a request and an education authority agreeing to it where it would be in the interest of the child.
33. A supporter can be anyone the parent or young person wants to nominate. A supporter could be a relative, friend, befriender or voluntary organisation worker or other person. The supporter could also be a professional working with the family provided there is no conflict of interest with that professional's duty under the Act or his/her responsibilities as an employee. A supporter can attend discussions with the parent or young person. The supporter may assist in a number of different ways, including:
- acting as a sounding board for the parent in preparing for the meeting
- taking notes so that the parent or young person can participate more fully in the discussions
- suggesting points for further clarification, questions to ask or giving advice to the parent during the meeting.
34. The Act allows for a parent or young person to appoint a person to conduct all or part of any discussion with the education authority or make written or other representation to the authority on their behalf. This person, known as an advocate, can come from a range of backgrounds, including:
- someone who has acted, or is already acting, as a supporter to the parent or young person - the parent or young person may wish the supporter to speak on his or her behalf
- a person not trained in advocacy but who is aware of education and other legislation and/or the needs of the child or young person who has additional support needs
- a voluntary organisation which need not be an advocacy organisation
- a formal advocacy service or agency, with trained advocates, possibly operating to its own guidelines or code of practice.
35. The main objectives of an advocate should be to speak up on behalf of the parent or young person and to represent the parent or young person at discussions 59.
36. Education authorities do not have a duty to provide or pay for a supporter or advocate. They should include, in their information for parents, details about the right to have an advocate or a supporter involved and how parents or young people can find out what services are available in their area.
37. The Act, as amended, requires the Scottish Ministers to make an advocacy service available on request and free of charge to support parents and young people in Tribunal proceedings. By advocacy service in this context the Act means " a service whereby another person conducts discussions with or makes representations to the Tribunal or any other persons involved in the proceedings" on behalf of the parent or young person. The service becomes available when a parent or young person is considering making a reference to the Tribunal. It is expected that there would be discussions or meetings between the parent(s) or young person and the advocate prior to appearing before the Tribunal. The service is also available to support parents or young persons in formulating their application and in related discussions with local authorities 60 as well as to provide support at the actual Tribunal hearing.
38. As a matter of good practice, education authorities should inform parents about the advocacy service when they become aware that a parent or young person is considering making a reference to the Tribunal. They should also refer to the service in the information they publish about additional support needs under the Act.
39. Parents will be able to obtain information about how to access the advocacy service from the Tribunal secretariat and from the national helpline Enquire 61 . The arrangements for providing the service have still to be finalised and further information about it will be available later in the year.
Good practice in communicating with parents
40. Education authorities should take account of the following good practice points when working with parents.
Information should be:
Communication works well when:
Effective working relationships develop when:
Meetings work best when:
Identifying the way forward works well when:
Accountability and involvement: