Opposition leader slams “disgusting” Southend SEND failings

Parents deserve an apology for the “disgusting” failure of Southend’s children’s service, according to a councillor who has offered to personally say sorry to every one of them affected.

Laurie Burton, councillor responsible for children’s services, was grilled last Tuesday over a Local Government Association report which criticised various aspects of Southend Council’s special educational needs and disabilities service.

These included making parents feel afraid of losing their children if they ask for help because they were approached through a “safeguarding lens”. Members of the scrutiny committee were concerned that the council’s action plan did not include measures to tackle this.

Councillor Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative group, said: “In the report it says that keeping children safe from harm is essential, but using this as a pathway for children with additional needs or disabilities is creating mistrust fear and frustration for families who require support.

“Some parents felt judged and blamed by some services.”

Calling it a “disgusting practice”, Cllr Cox said: “This is a real issue for families who feel they are going to have their children taken away because they are asking for help. This is so serious.”

He added: “We’ve got a report here that says, over successive years, children in this town have been failed. (Parents) haven’t had the appropriate support that’s needed. They haven’t had the access to services, they can’t get assessments.

“They have been treated as though they are the problem and on some occasions that they are the cause of their child’s disability.

“One word I haven’t heard tonight is ‘Sorry’. I’m going to do that. I’m going to apologise to every parent, every child that’s been failed. This should never have happened.”

Mr Burton said: “The review team did speak to some parents who felt that in some instances we were going through an overly safeguarding approach where perhaps it wasn’t appropriate.

“You don’t want parents to not apply for help because they think their children are going to be safeguarded. We want the message to be, if your child does have needs, we are there to support them.”

Cllr Burton promised to give regular updates on progress being made to address the review,

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter