YOUNG people with special educational needs and disabilities are being failed by the authorities, a damning report has revealed.

A five day inspection found some of the most vulnerable young people in Southend are being let down by those in charge of services and healthcare, including Southend Council and the Southend Clinical Commissioning Group.

The report from Ofsted demands a written statement of action due to "significant areas of weakness" in the way those categorised with special educational needs and disabilities [SEND] are treated.

Reforms have not been prioritised, staff not put in place, outcomes not monitored, help not available and children lost in the system.

The report stated: "There were 27 children and young people identified by inspectors during this inspection whose whereabouts could not be quickly confirmed.

"Leaders acknowledged the seriousness of this situation and made urgent enquiries to confirm the safety of the children and young people.

"The local area was able to confirm the whereabouts of 26 of the children and young people by the end of the inspection.

"Through their own referral procedures, they were able to confirm the whereabouts of the final young person after the inspection finished."

Responding directly to this criticism, Helen Boyd, Southend Council cabinet member for children and learning, said: “To be clear this was not a safeguarding issue and was an aspect of the draft report that we challenged.

“During the inspection, the local area were asked to confirm immediately where a number of young people were.

"Agencies were able to do this quickly for all but one of those selected and within three days for the remaining one by accessing records, and making enquiries with schools.

“None of the 27 selected were missing or deemed to be at risk and many had simply left college provision for employment, further education or training for example and were harder to contact.

“The council always works with all local agencies to ensure their wellbeing and safety of all local children and young people.”

The report continued: "The local area does not know enough about the range of academic and social outcomes for its children and young people with SEND.

"Work to improve the quality of the provision has not been followed up in schools to ensure that practice is improving.

"As a result, leaders do not know with accuracy how well needs are identified, assessed and met.”

Children over the age of five and waiting for an assessment for autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were also found to be facing long waiting times.

The clinical commissioning group has tried to make these assessments more efficient but even when they are successful in doing so, parents have been left with almost no guidance on what to do next, or where to get help.

The clinical commissioning group was put in special measures due to its finances in January and the senior leadership has changed which have "reduced their capacity to work jointly to enact the reforms in a timely manner".

The authorities have further been accused of failing to meet their statutory duties for those with special educational needs and disabilities [SEND].

Some of those within the system were praised.

The report states: "Some children and young people with SEND access high-quality provision because of highly competent individual professionals who support them in schools, colleges, the health service, social care and local authority specialist teams.

"However, this is not a consistent picture across the local area."

The report also suggests this in in spite of the systems in place rather than because of them.

Ofsted acknowledged those in charge are aware of some of the problems with the system and there are some programmes being put in place.

In particular A Better Start Southend, which links a number of organisations to give children the best possible start in life, is helping younger children.

What next?

Following the inspection Ofsted and the CQC have determined that the council and the Southend Clinical Commissioning Group must submit a Written Statement of Action to address the inspectors’ findings.

Under official Ofsted guidelines, the authorities must make the statement within 70 working days of receiving the report, this means that Southend’s statement will have to be submitted by the end of March next year.

It must propose what action will be taken by which authority and the timeframe for completion.

Both authorities must also publish their statement on their websites.

If the Government's chief inspector finds the statement to be unsatisfactory then another review or inspection may be scheduled.

After a period of 12 months the authorities will be required to provide an update on their progress and the actions that have been taken.

How the authorities have responded

Councillor Helen Boyd, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “Inspections like this one provide a vital role in assessing what is working well and where improvements need to be made.

"We’re confident we are addressing the concerns highlighted in the report, especially with regard to improving communication with parents, who have every right to expect the highest quality services for their children.

"The council, schools, and its CCG partners welcome this report and are fully committed to putting the right plans in place to support learners with special educational needs and / or disabilities (SEND).

“The inspection involved visits to several settings and conversations with officers, clinicians, practitioners and stakeholders, parents and learners. The inspection took in all aspects of physical health, mental health and educational services for SEND children, across a variety of providers in the borough.”

Chief Nurse at Southend CCG, Tricia D’Orsi, said: “Whilst we were disappointed at some of the findings, we acknowledge that implementation in some areas has been more time consuming than we would have liked.

"However, it is reassuring to know that we are very much on the right path and improvements have already been seen in a number of areas.

“The key to this lies with parents, as they are the experts living with children with special needs 24/7. We must continue to work closely with them to ensure there is co-production in finding and implementing the solutions required.

“We hope the culture of parents and professionals working together, as equal partners, will be routine practice in future to achieve better outcomes for children.

“The report findings will galvanise the increasing close work being undertaken between parents, children, health, schools, public health and local authority services, to support the parents and children in our local community.”