The Department for Education’s SEND Review consultation closed on 22 July 2022. Adoption UK provided a comprehensive response to the most relevant of many consultation questions, based on our own research and on feedback from our members (obtained via a survey).

The foundation of our response hinged on two main issues, which provide essential context for the answers to almost all the relevant questions:

  1. Resourcing and accountability

Any SEND system is only as good as the expertise, resourcing and accountability associated with it. SEND reform that does not tackle issues around knowledge and expertise of professionals (especially with regard to the needs of care-experienced children and young people), does not effectively fund and resource provision, and does not hold providers accountable for following their legal obligations will leave children with SEND no better off than they were before.

  1. The need for ‘joined-up thinking’

Considering that care-experienced children are disproportionately likely to have SEND, a comprehensive impact assessment of the proposed SEND reforms on this group of children should be a minimum requirement. The current SEND Code of Practice does not mention previously looked after children at all. The ‘Right Support, Right Place, Right Time’ document laying out the proposals for this SEND review mentions looked after children three times, and, again, does not mention previously looked after children at all. SEND systems interact with other policies designed to support care-experienced children (such as PP+) but without coherent planning, these systems operate in silos, especially for previously looked after children who do not have the mandatory Personal Education Plan (PEP) to bring professionals together, provide a forum for the voice of the child, and create a framework for assessing and monitoring required support.

Adoption UK’s full consultation response ran to several thousand words, but below is a brief summary of the main points of our response to the most relevant questions:


Question 1: What key factors should be considered when developing national standards to ensure they deliver improved outcomes and experiences for children and young people with SEND and their families? This includes how this applies across education, health and care in a 0-25 system.

Standards must be developed in consultation with all stakeholders, including children/young people and their parents/guardians, and include robust measures for monitoring outcomes and appropriate redress where standards are not being met.

Care-experienced children (including looked after and previously looked after children) must explicitly be identified as a cohort requiring specific consideration and targeted support pathways. Standards must account for a fuller range of needs than are currently recognised, including FASD, developmental trauma and attachment-related difficulties. It is difficult to see how a standardised template for identification, recording, assessment and support can be applied to a need or diagnosis that is not currently recognised in any category of SEND reporting.

National standards must be integrated with existing education support structures for care-experienced children (such as PP+), including acknowledgement that many of these additional supports fall away as children grow older even though EHCPs are still active.

Standards must include a comprehensive pathway for identification and support of SEMH needs (particularly prevalent among care-experienced children), especially in the context of the school attendance measures proposed in the Schools Bill.


Question 2: How should we develop the proposal for new local SEND partnerships to oversee the effective development of local inclusion plans whilst avoiding unnecessary burdens of duplicating current partnerships.

Since the needs of so many care-experienced children lie at the intersection of challenges arising from early adverse experiences and SEND, local partnerships must include representatives with expertise in their needs, for example, a representative of the virtual school as a minimum.


Question 5: How can parents and local authorities most effectively work together to produce a tailored list of placements that is appropriate for their child, and gives parents confidence in the EHCP process?

There must be transparency about the criteria local authorities (LAs) will use in drawing up lists and how frequently the provision in each setting is evaluated. Care-experienced children may need specialist support from highly-trained staff. A change of head teacher, SENCO etc. can change the breadth of support available so LAs will need to undertake frequent reviews of local provision if parents are to feel confident that lists are reflecting up-to-date information.

A list of potentially suitable placements is only as good as the provision that is available. More than one third of respondents to Adoption UK’s SEND Review survey felt there was no suitable provision locally that could be included on a list. This lack of appropriate provision needs to be addressed.

Parental choice includes factors other than a child’s learning needs which must also be taken into account. These can include geographical factors, including proximity to members of a child’s birth family, as well as pastoral support, peer group and pre-existing relationships. It is essential that this is a collaborative process and settings are not selected with a narrow focus.

Parental choice must be retained and exercise of this choice must not be prejudicial. Where a parent chooses a suitable school that is not on the list, this must not prejudice the provision of associated support, including the provision of transport. Guidance should be explicit about this.


Question 6: To what extent do you agree or disagree with our overall approach to strengthen redress, including through national standards and mandatory mediation?

Disagree. Adoption UK members have reported challenges where professionals have lacked understanding of the complex nature of their child’s needs, including lack of awareness of FASD, C-PTSD and similar conditions. Parents are unlikely to have confidence in a mandatory mediation service that is not visibly impartial and independent, is not transparent about their level of expertise in matters relevant to the needs of care-experienced children, or does not have that expertise.


Question 8: What steps should be taken to strengthen early years practice with regard to conducting the two-year-old progress check and integration with the Healthy Child Programme review?

The current Healthy Child Programme (Birth to 5) does not mention looked after or previously looked after children, despite the fact that a child’s average age at adoption is three years old, making this a crucial time for providing advice and support to newly-formed families. The review must give consideration to including specific guidance and information on the circumstances and needs of previously looked after children, following consultation with stakeholders.

Adoption UK recommends a requirement for training in the needs of care-experienced children to be a mandatory element in all Level 3 qualifications for early years practitioners, and a requirement for training for early years SENCOs to include material on the intersection of care experience and SEND and effective use of the Early Years Pupil Premium for care-experienced children.


Question 9: To what extent do you agree or disagree that we should introduce a new mandatory SENCo NPQ to replace the NASENCo?

Agree. Adoption UK recommends that the new SENCO qualification includes specific training on the intersection of SEND and care experience, including effective approaches to multi-agency working to support needs.


Question 13: To what extent do you agree or disagree that this new vision for alternative provision will result in improved outcomes for children and young people?

Disagree. The new proposals for time-limited AP placements appear to situate the ‘problem’ within the child and do not do enough to ensure that mainstream settings are effectively supporting the child’s needs. Some children will need specialist support regardless of setting. While a child may thrive in an AP setting, it is not necessarily the child that has changed, but the environment around the child. Returning a child to the mainstream school without a commitment to make specified reasonable adjustments risks a loss of any progress and a re-emergence of previous issues.

It is essential that AP settings providing outreach support to mainstream school, or educating care-experienced children within their setting, have expertise in the needs of care-experienced children and conditions which disproportionately affect them, including FASD.

Transitions are difficult for many care-experienced children. It is essential to minimise the number of educational transitions they experience. There should be a presumption against repeated instances of time-limited placements in AP for care-experienced children, and transitions to AP must not be considered until the mainstream setting can evidence that all appropriate measures have been taken to identify and address a child’s SEND.


Question 20: What will make the biggest difference to successful implementation of these proposals? What do you see as the barriers and enablers of success?

Lack of understanding of care-experienced children’s needs is a barrier to accessing appropriate support. 55% of adoptive parents do not feel that their child’s teachers have a good understanding of the needs of care-experienced children (Adoption Barometer 2022) and parents frequently request EHCP assessments, rather than schools (Adoption Barometer 2019).

Lack of accountability is another barrier. Adoption UK members report that current timescales are frequently not met (in one third of cases according to the Adoption Barometer 2019) and the provision of an EHCP does not currently guarantee adequate support. In 58% of cases, the provision outlined on adopted children’s EHCPs was not being fully delivered (Adoption Barometer 2022).

Lack of appropriate provision is another barrier. There are few settings that specialise in supporting children with both SEND and a history of trauma and disrupted attachments. Parents are faced with a choice of mainstream schools that may not be able to meet needs, or special schools that specialise in SEND that their child does not have and for which they do not therefore meet the threshold for admission. Too many children end up out of school altogether. Adoption UK has recorded a rise in home education and EOTAS among adoptive families. One in ten adoptive parents said they had home educated one or more adopted children during 2021 (Adoption Barometer 2022).


Question 22: Is there anything else you would like to say about the proposals in the green paper.

A significant omission is an impact assessment of these proposals on care-experienced children and young people. Existing SEND systems are not integrated with measures that are in place to overcome the disadvantage experienced by previously looked after children. The lack of a PEP for this cohort can leave parents/guardians to act as the lynchpin between educational professionals within the setting as well as external services such as children’s social care, CAMHS and therapeutic providers. This is an unfair and unmanageable burden for parents and guardians.

Care-experienced children and young people, and their families, deserve an integrated approach to addressing their needs across all domains. Adoption UK urges the SEND Review team to conduct a thorough impact assessment of their proposals on this cohort and produce clear guidance on how all proposals will interact with existing policies, guidance, statutory guidance and legislation relating to looked after and previously looked after children.


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