Independent probe of SEND provision in Southend

Parents in Southend are too terrified of “having their children taken away” to speak out about their problems at home, it has been claimed.

Tory leader, Councillor Tony Cox, revealed he has been contacted by worried parents but they are often too scared to seek help.

He spoke during a debate over calls for an independent probe following a chorus of criticism over Southend Council’s services for children with special educational needs.

At a full council meeting, Cllr Cox said: “Just prior to the elections I did ask the leader if we could have an investigation as we felt it was needed.

“It will give answers to some questions people are rightly asking for.

“Even if it does at the end give a clean bill of health.

“There are extreme issues and concerns that have been raised with me when it comes to the children with disabilities team. It’s heartbreaking when parents come to me and tell me ‘we’d like to tell you more but we’re frightened we are going to have our children taken away from us’.

“That should cause alarm to every one of us sitting here. It’s with deep regret it had to come to this point to call an extraordinary council meeting for this to happen.”

The call for an investigation follows a review of SEND services by Ofsted.

Inspectors found some improvements had been made but added they have been slow to be implemented and there has been a delay in a positive impact.

Julia Hopper has been campaigning for an investigation since her son, Chris Nota, died after falling from the Queensway Bridge in Southend last July.

She said: “We welcome and agree to the independent investigation that we lobbied hard for but are obviously concerned. Several cabinet members making these decisions in our absence are not impartial to historical and ongoing failures.

“What Ofsted recently identified is a total lack of trust and confidence in our SEND services and our local authority and clinical commissioning group among families.”

If approved by cabinet on Tuesday, the investigation will be put into action. It is likely to receive cross-party backing.

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter