Parents’ survey finds small improvements, but major challenges remain

29th September 2023

  • Every few years, we carry out a survey of parent carers in Sheffield. The feedback we collect helps us to represent parents’ views at strategic meetings with the Council and the NHS.

    This year, 496 parents completed our questionnaire. The survey repeated many questions we had posed previously (in 2014 and 2019), allowing us to track changes in parents’ satisfaction over time.

    Responses indicated that the quality of some services had improved, whilst others were either stagnating or experiencing a decline. Service capacity continued to be a huge concern, resulting in long waits for assessments, support and therapy.

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    Key findings

    • Waiting times for diagnostic assessments have surged. 80% of respondents reported waits of a year or more to have their child assessed.
    • Parents highlighted capacity issues in many services that children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) rely on. For some services, as many as three quarters said that their child was getting too little or no input.
    • Compared to 2019, quality ratings had improved for education support services, deteriorated for many health services and remained fairly static for social care services.
    • 38% of respondents said that they were “struggling” or “not coping” with their caring responsibilities. Only 40% of these parents were receiving support from social care services.
    • There is a growing and often unmet need for mental health support – affecting not only children and young people with SEND, but also their siblings and parents.
    • 85% of respondents said that caring had affected their ability to work, and 67% said that their family was worse off financially as a result. 38% of respondents were in receipt of means-tested benefits.
    • Three quarters of parents said that it was “difficult”, “very difficult” or “impossible” to find suitable childcare for their child with SEND.
    • Satisfaction levels varied significantly between school types, with a slight improvement for mainstream settings and Integrated Resources (IRs) compared to 2019. However, only 30% of parents of children in mainstream schools felt that their child’s educational provision met their needs, compared with 48% of IR parents and 72% of special school parents.
    • Parental satisfaction with the Council’s SEND Assessment and Review Service (SENDSARS) and the assessment process for Education Health and Care (EHC) plans had improved since 2019. However, this was from a very low baseline, and the percentage of parents who gave “poor” ratings was still very high.
    • Only 16% of parents of children with EHC plans said that their child was getting all of the provision described in the plan, and a significant percentage reported problems with the process of reviewing the plans.
    • Despite recent work to address issues with the transition to adulthood, the impact of this is not yet being felt on the ground. A majority of parents still reported difficulties with the process and a lack of information, advice and support around transition.

    Ruth Brown, Chief Executive of Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Sheffield Children’s welcomes the Sheffield Parent Carer Forum’s State of Sheffield survey and acknowledges the amount of work that has gone into seeking views from parents and carers of children and young people with special educational needs and / or disabilities. We will digest the findings and recommendations in detail to inform our continued work in developing and improving the care we provide for all children and young people and their families. We will continue to work with our partners across the city and look forward to working with the Sheffield Parent Carer Forum to further improve our services.”

    The Sheffield Place team, which forms part of NHS South Yorkshire Integrated Care Board also welcomed the feedback. They said: “We would like to thank the Sheffield Parent Carer Forum for their work collecting and analysing the feedback to produce the State of Sheffield report. The Sheffield Place team is actively working in partnership with the Parent Carer Forum, Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield City Council, schools and a range of voluntary sector organisations and other partners on a number of the issues included within the report and the feedback relating to these issues will be utilised as part of this work. Sheffield Place will consider the other issues and recommendations as part of its ongoing strategic planning.”

    Councillor Dawn Dale, Chair of Sheffield City Council’s Education, Children and Families Policy Committee, said: “We are committed to working closely with the Parent Carer Forum and we welcome the parents’ survey findings about what improvements are needed for our children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability. It’s vital that they thrive in our city, and we will work together to make changes to the way we work to help them do this. We will work through the issues raised by parents in partnership with parents and children and young people and our partners.”

    Laura Gillespie, Chair of Sheffield Parent Carer Forum, said: “Our report shows that families with disabled children still face significant challenges in most areas of life. The services they rely on have been hit hard by the combined effects of the pandemic, soaring inflation and public spending cuts. Whilst we recognise that work has been undertaken to address some of these concerns, our survey shows that families are not consistently feeling the benefits of this. More work is needed to ensure that the small improvements we have seen become embedded. We have included a set of recommendations to Sheffield City Council, the NHS and other partners in our report, and remain committed to working with them to improve the lives of families with disabled children in our city.”