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SEND Parents Protest Outside Surrey County Council HQ

Published on: 1 Feb, 2023
Updated on: 2 Feb, 2023

Parents protesting outside Surrey County Council Reigate. They were complaining about the lack of resources for parents of children with special educational needs. Photo Grahame Larter

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Parents of children with additional needs are calling on Surrey County Council to engage with them over issues they have faced getting support and education provision.

A protest took place outside the council’s Reigate offices on Tuesday (January 31) where parents at various stages of accessing support for their children gathered.

The organiser, Anna Sutherland, said having started a group chat with a small group of parents in late 2021, she had experienced, and also heard about, people struggling to navigate the system.

She said families were trying to do this “in addition to dealing with the significant daily stresses which often come with parenting children with special needs”.

Parents at the protest told the LDRS (local democracy reporting service) of lengthy and expensive processes to obtain assessments, education, health and care plans and school places.

Ms Sutherland said after problems with the system in the south east of the county, she went back through her group chat and realised that many avenues, including repeated appeals to caseworkers, formal complaints and more did not work.

She said: “So the other option worth a shot, in the hope that by bringing attention to these issues we can persuade the council to engage with us in order to improve understanding and support for disabled children and their families, is peaceful protest.”

Another parent who did not wish to be named said: “I would ask them to listen to us, we know our children better than they do. Most families don’t have the time, energy or wherewithal to fight them.”

Tim Oliver – Leader of Surrey County Council

Councillors, including the council’s leader Cllr Tim Oliver (Conservative, Weybridge), came to speak to protesters outside the authority’s headquarters.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s cabinet afterwards, he said it was important for members to hear the lived experiences of those involved.

He added: “I genuinely believe we are trying our hardest to deliver a good service and a responsive service.

“Listening to some of those parents, I accept that isn’t their experience at all times.”

Sophie Guest said she was there largely to support parents who were going through some of the same issues she had, and pointed to the support many driving past had shown, sounding their horns at the group of protesters.

She said that councillors had come out to talk felt like a good opportunity for those parents there to “feel listened to”.

Another parent, who did not wish to be named, said the processes surrounding SEND provision could feel “quite isolating”.

Ms Guest added: “It’s nice to feel like you have got in front of people, otherwise it feels very process driven.”

Cllr Clare Curran

Cllr Clare Curran (Conservative, Bookham and Fetcham West) presented a strategy to cabinet outlining the council’s plan to help all children with additional needs and disabilities in the county to “thrive and achieve their full potential”.

Having been out and spoken to the protesters, Cllr Curran said: “I’ve heard their stories, and they’re all really powerful stories and a real reminder to all of us that we need to strive collectively to do better to meet the needs of children and their families.

“Thanks to those parents for coming here today, [taking] time out of their lives to speak to us.

“I think we should apologise for the delays and the stress and the strain that sometimes we do put those parents and families through.”

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