County councillors slammed for making ‘offensive’ comments about SEN children

COMMITTEE: Councillors Sarah Hudson and Simon Webb

PARENTS, charities, and specialists are calling for two Kent County councillors to apologise after making “offensive” and “deeply troubling” comments during a Council meeting.

A local charity for people with autism and a neurodivergence specialist have expressed their outrage at comments suggesting that having an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) was “the in-thing”.

During a Kent County Council (KCC) SEND Scrutiny Sub-Committee meeting on March 22, a Conservative councillor for Maidstone, Simon Webb said: “If I am a parent who thinks that their child needs an EHCP, because that’s the in thing to do as a parent these days, who is going to turn around and say no?”

Meraud Davis, a Behaviour Specialist at Aspens, a charity in Pembury which provides support for people with Autism told the Times: “These suggestions made by Kent councillors are offensive to parents and show a complete lack of understanding of this very difficult process.

“I think they have incredible nerve to suggest that parents apply for EHCP just because of extra funding, which not all of them receive.

“It is a long, complicated, and drawn-out process, which requires a lot of personal resources and has a very high threshold to meet.”

At the same meeting, Sarah Hudson, a Conservative councillor for Tonbridge and Malling claimed that some parents choose not to take their children to school to gain benefits.

She told the committee: “There are families who have never, even once, taken their own child to school because the state pays for a cab to take them.

“Even though it might only be just up the road and they are perfectly capable of doing it themselves because neither of them work.

“They are deliberately choosing that route because they see all the add-ons that go with it and they think, ‘This is b***** good. Let’s go for it.’”

Liz Hawker, founder of local SEN consultancy, One in Five, told the Times: “Navigating the maze of information and local authority procedures is one of the worst things any parent has to go through.

“These councillors seem more intent on cutting costs than providing sorely needed educational support.

“Above all, their comments show a level of disdain that is deeply troubling – ignoring the challenges faced by families and the SEND law put in place to protect them.”

An EHCP provides educational and financial support for children and young people who need more support than that already available to those with special educational needs (SEN).

Meraud Davis explained: “EHCPs can take years to get and can be a very expensive and unpleasant process. For autism, diagnosis takes two to five years on the NHS, with many paying privately and then supplying statements and references.

“We have one young person who has been diagnosed with autism and has been waiting 18 months for their EHCP, which is the pivotal paperwork that determines which school they can go to.”

“We need additional funding and better access to support for those with additional needs and a more forward-thinking and earlier approach to support.”

Recently, the video of the meeting went viral on social media, amassing hundreds of thousands of views and receiving negative reactions from local parents. One mother, who did not want to be named, said: “This is typical and infuriating. We as parents go through hell to get our children the care they need, but it seems that SEN is not taken seriously by the Council. It feels like our children just fall through a gap. And this comment proves it.”

Kent PACT, a group for parents of children with disabilities and additional needs have called for an apology. They said: “The publicly available recording of the SEND Scrutiny Sub-Committee meeting on March 22 is being viewed with understandable disgust via social media channels.

“Kent PACT believe that a public apology to the families of Kent by members would be an appropriate response given the severity of their conduct.”

Lisa Lloyd, from Aylesford, Kent, who has two children with autism, both with an EHCP, has organised an ‘Enough is Enough’ protest in London on June 21 outside the Houses of Parliament to campaign for more SEN funding.

A petition on called ‘Reform the SEND education in UK’ was created in light of the councillor’s comments and has gained almost 35,000 signatures in just seven days.

It calls for councillors talking about SEND issues in an “ableist, discriminatory fashion” to be held accountable for their language and proposes the EHCP process be reformed to ensure “children with disabilities are treated fairly and equally”.

KCC have been approached for comment on this issue.

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