In this week’s research round-up podcast Sam and Iesha discussed this article from the University of Roehampton exploring children’s voice within Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). The findings were concerning, highlighting that in many cases young people’s voices were not found within their plan.
Last week Alix and I were able to attend the launch event for a new quality and rights framework, produced by a team of young disabled researchers, which provides straightforward guidance on how young people’s voices can be put at the heart of their Plans. The framework was presented by a brilliant team of young people who had led the project, trained and supported by researchers at Coventry university.
The team named themselves ‘RIP:STARS’, a catchy acronym for Research Into Plans: Skilled Team with Ambition, Rights and Strengths, and consisted of six disabled young people aged between 17 and 25. Funded by Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL), as part of the Big Lottery Fund, they spent 15 months looking into the following questions:
- Do EHCPs support the rights of young people?
- What does ‘quality’ look like in an EHCP?
- Do EHCPs prepare young people for independent living and achieving their dreams for the future?
Drawing on the experiences of disabled young people, parents and professionals, the RIP:STARS put together two documents: a summary of their findings on EHCPs, particularly focusing on rights and quality, and a framework for producing EHCPs centred around young people and their rights. Both are hugely valuable resources for front-line professionals working with young people to put together an EHCP.
An EHCP begins with an ‘about me’ section, starting the Plan with an overview of the young person as an individual with interests, goals and a voice. As discussed in our podcast, in many of the 184 EHCPs analysed in the Roehampton research, the ‘about me’ section was found to be worded and structured in a way that suggested it had been written by a professional rather than the young person. Moreover, very few plans provided an explanation of how the young person’s voice had been captured.
Putting young people at the centre of their plan
The RIP:STARS report argued that instead of being an afterthought, Section A should be the ‘roots’ of a young person’s Plan. It should be a statement of a young person’s likes and dislikes, goals and aims for the future, as well as who helps them to make decisions and how they like to be supported – from their own perspective. While parents and carers are often heavily involved in writing this section, it may be beneficial for an independent advocate to work with the young person to produce it, making sure that it is an accurate representation of the young person and their life, rather than being skewed by the views of their family.
Aims and goals were the main focus of the RIP:STARS framework; the team pointed out that each EHCP details the support that a young person needs not only to access support now but to work towards living independently in the future. They discussed the importance of ensuring that this is built into the Plan from early on, not just when the young person nears adulthood. These aspirations and goals need to be within the document from an early age to ensure that the young person is supported to learn the skills necessary to be part of their community as an adult. For example, cooking and budgeting can be included in a young person’s learning throughout their education, making it far less daunting when looking at provision for independent living at 18.
From deficits to strengths
The framework is written from a social model of disability perspective and encourages practitioners to centre EHCPs around the young person, looking at strengths and supporting needs rather than deficits. The team were uncomfortable with the medical model approach that is often seen in these documents and felt that plans often used ‘jargon’ which made them far less accessible to young people and their families. To ensure that young people are involved in planning and reviewing the support they receive, EHCPs need to be straightforwardly understandable for everyone involved, with clear information on who is responsible for providing specific support.
Andre Imich, SEN and Disability Professional Advisor at the DfE, was at the launch. He committed to sharing the resource as a guide to good practice and spoke about the need for support plans to focus on preparing young people for adulthood, an area that he admitted was not always considered in enough detail.
The full report and framework are here – the two reports are worth a read for anyone looking to understand how to centre the young person in an EHCP and ensure that their plan prepares them for the future they have chosen.