Last week, Hannah and Essi, our Outreach Case Managers, attended the Tes SEND Show. They’ve come back feeling inspired, empowered and refreshed having spent the weekend with others who are equally as passionate as them about improving outcomes for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Here are their initial thoughts. They will be sharing their thoughts on the seminars they attended, so stay tuned for more blog posts in the coming weeks.

The whole experience was eye opening in so many ways, but most poignant to us was the fact that we were doing something new and unknown, actually quite out of our comfort zones! It made us think about the wonderful young people we work with, how they are challenged to step out of their comfort zones daily, and how normal daily routines can be a huge challenge to overcome.

We had to make use of the rather confusing public transport system, deciphering timetables and arrival boards, all of which were quite challenging for us not being native to London, but could be really daunting and overwhelming for our young people trying to get to school or local community events. We heard from speech and Language therapist Kate Freeman that this challenge can be amplified for the 1 in 5 young people who have speech, language and communication needs, especially the 7.6% of learners who have Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), which is very under-represented in training and awareness.

Furthermore, daily travel and life admin can be a real cause of stress for some autistic people, or those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However we can work together to harness their working memory, building on the skills that they excel in and finding individual ways that work for them, to help them exceed their aims and objectives. Tracy Packiam Alloway, PhD had some extremely helpful research on this, based around harnessing and nurturing memory superpowers.

It was a simple but effective reminder of how real life can look for the young people we work with, and that progress looks different for every single young person and family, so we need to recognise and celebrate each individual milestone with joy and excitement.

We came home confident, empowered and proud to have attended this conference with so many like minded, person focused people who are fighting for the rights of children and young people with SEND and Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) to be given the opportunity – the right – to learn, to thrive, to shine.

Spending time in a space full of professionals, parents and other like minded people felt incredibly empowering for us both. It was great to hear others’ views and opinions, and share ideas of best practice when working with children, young people and families with SEND. We shared many positive thoughts (I’m sure anyone familiar with the world of SEND can tell you their favourite moment they’ve had with a young person), but many also felt this was a good space to share their feelings of frustration and overwhelm.

This has got us thinking about not only our own experiences of working in SEND, but that of parents and other professionals. During the seminar ‘Bridging the gap between families of children with SEND and professionals’ with Rachel Wright from Born at the Right Time Limited, we discussed the positives and negatives of the world of SEND. The most common words that were mentioned were frustration, overwhelm, stress, but also pride, joy and fulfillment.

In a 2020 study by Dr Joanna Griffin for the Affinity Hub, 98% of parents who responded reported feeling stressed and/or anxious in relation to their child, and 70% reported feeling helpless. On the other hand, 74% of parents also said they felt pride when they thought of their child. Parents felt proud of what they had achieved as a family: managing a diagnosis and fighting for support services through several pressure points. This, combined with progress that may initially have seemed impossible, gives parents a huge reason to celebrate. It is therefore no surprise that over 50% of parents say that the first feeling they think of when thinking of their child is joy!

What can we as professionals learn from these surveys?

The bureaucracy in SEND is difficult to navigate and has not been made particularly ‘user friendly’ for parents. The Tes Magazine article ‘SEND: Working with Challenging Parents’ really highlights the need for professionals to actively listen and engage with families to ensure they feel a part of the decision making process. Labels make all the difference; as highlighted in the study above, SEND parents can feel stressed and helpless. One of the keys to building strong relationships is to be mindful of your language. Is the parent angry, or are they feeling concerned for the wellbeing of their child, and are pushing for what they know is right for them? Is the parent non-engaging, or are they feeling overstretched and overwhelmed by the systems that are difficult to understand? Professionals should look to parents as partners, and as experts of their own experiences with their child. Effective communication and respecting opinions can make all the difference, and make parents feel humanised in a system that can so easily feel overwhelming.

A key component to a collaborative relationship is trust, and this can only be achieved when parents and children feel listened to. At Love Squared we work with children and families who have fallen through the cracks of the system, and aim to build strong trusting relationships with them with the aim of providing long term support. We work holistically with the whole family as much as possible to create long-term change, not short-term outcomes.

‘Trust is believing that what is important to me is important and safe with you’

Charles Feltman