The new Leeds Local Offer website launches today (1 September 2014). You can use the website to find out what services and support you can expect to access locally. You can also use it to share your views of services in Leeds and how they should develop…
In our last entry we talked about how the Children and Families Act stresses the importance of education, health and social care services working in partnership with families, both in making plans about their own lives, and in making plans about how to develop services locally.
We also talked about how the Act says that that children and young people with SEN and disabilities and their families must be included in planning for the new Education Health and Care Plans, personal budgets and the Leeds Local Offer (see previous entries).
So what have we done to make this happen in Leeds since we started working on the reforms last year?
Right from the start we invited parents and carers to sit on all of our working groups and the high level ‘steering group’ making all major decisions. We are lucky in Leeds that we have very active parent/carer forum, EPIC Leeds, who are funded by the Department for Education to support participation of parents and carers in Leeds whose children have SEN and disabilities. We also have several other very active support groups for parents and carers whose members have been willing to give up their time and take part in working groups.
We have had to change our meetings a bit to make sure parents and carers are genuinely able to participate. For example, we have tried to avoid meetings at certain times of day and school holidays. We have tried to make sure that people who can’t attend meetings can use email to send in views or questions and be confident that their views will be included. We have also had to remind ourselves to avoid things like jargon terms in meetings and use plain English. Often, these things have been good for everyone, not just the parent and carer representatives.
We have also made many visits to schools, youth groups, and parents groups to talk to both children and young people with SEN and disability and their families. We have always taken detailed notes in these meetings and given people opportunities to give feedback. We take the notes and feedback to every steering group to make sure those views influence decision making. We are also writing an ‘easy read’ report about the views we heard and what we did as a result, which we will publish on our Leeds Local Offer website from 1 September 2014.
We have also tried to use social media more effectively, tweeting about how people can get involved and asking partners to post messages on facebook. We have also tried different ways to get people’s views really quickly and easily, for example we emailed out just one very short question on its own instead of a survey, to all the parents and carers on our mailing list. Within minutes people were replying on mobile phones and within just a few days we have enough responses to know what decision to make. Longer surveys do not get such prompt responses so we will definitely do this again. We are learning a lot from trying different ways to communicate and get people’s views.
We still find it hard sometimes to get people interested in being involved, for example we really want to work more with young people aged 19-25 , so we made lots of contact with local colleges but we have struggled to get responses. We know we have more to learn and more to do. But we hope that we are starting to get closer to making sure families have choice and control in their own lives, and genuine influence in the services we and our partners deliver.
If you want to get involved in developing and reviewing services locally, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to our mailing list and receive updates on all opportunities to get involved, including focus groups, workshops, regular meetings, and email surveys.