special needs pilot

FAMILIES with children who have special educational needs are to take part in an exclusive pilot which will see them manage their own budgets.

Wigan Council is one of 30 local authorities to become successful in joining the national Pathfinder programme, which aims to improve services for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), vulnerable youngsters and looked-after children.

A grant of £225,000 has been made available for the pilot in Wigan, which will run until March 31, 2013.

As part of the trial, Wigan Council has been tasked with testing out personal budgets where service users gain control over funds allocated to them following assessment.

One of the key examples of this would be school transport, where parents could use the funding allocated to them to use taxis, rather than specially adapted buses with passenger assistants.

But Nick Hudson, director of Children and Young People’s Services warned that if everyone in the Pathfinder scheme used the money to fund taxis, it would have a significant impact on the transport budget and this notion would need looking at in greater detail.

The Pathfinder scheme will also focus on vulnerable and looked-after children in terms of improving early identification of SEN and securing a more integrated support package and provide more support for parents through the Pathfinder Partnership Group (PPG).

It will also work on transferring power to the professionals on the front line and to local communities, with the aim of allowing children more influence in decision making when they get older.

But the council’s Pathways teams will be given little direction from the Department for Education and will use the pilot - which will work with between 20 and 30 families - to assess what changes need to be applied.

Elaine Baulcombe, service manager for Targeted Pathways, said: “This is the most significant change in the provision of children for 30 years and it will affect a lot of agencies which we work with.

“It is all about holistic support for children with special needs and disabilities and offering a more coherent package which offers confidence for parents, giving them more control on what goes on.

“As part of this we are offering a personal budget and exploring ways this can improve choice, control and outcomes.

“We will be offering support to parents and put them at the centre of everything, where they feel they are in control.”

Wigan is one of five Greater Manchester local authorities - Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale and Trafford - working as the North West consortia to share information and experiences of the Pathfinder programme over the trial period.