It is often difficult for a local authority in isolation to meet the whole spectrum of needs of children on the autism spectrum. The sharing of resources between authorities enables a broad range of appropriate provision. Authorities working together in a region can improve provision for children on the autism spectrum.
Forward planning at all levels is vital when working with children on the autism spectrum. At a local authority regional level authorities can build up a clear picture of the size and make up of the cohort of children on the autism spectrum and establish a clear inter-agency policy on provision for children in their area. Planning should include forward thinking to meet expected future demand on services and support networks, and aim for a spectrum of provision for the spectrum of need. Authorities should aim for a shared understanding across the region of the issues surrounding the education, health and social care of children on the autism spectrum and their families.
The collection of data is a good starting point for regional working. A regional audit of the population on the autism spectrum should be conducted regularly and the data should be used to promote co-ordinated regional commissioning. Other data can also be collected to provide information which can be used to compare services within and across regions, for example educational placement patterns. A review or audit of autism provision and services can enable local authorities to compare the delivery of services to children on the autism spectrum and their families within and between regions and bench marking tools can help evaluate practice.
Regions should establish shared and collective inter-agency priorities concerning services for children on the autism spectrum to ensure similar access to educational opportunities and services for individual children on the autism spectrum, no matter where they reside in the region. To facilitate this there should be regionally agreed definitions in use, regional working parties and joint policy documents for improving services for children on the autism spectrum and their families. Parental surveys should ascertain family views on the services provided and there should be co-ordination of plans across the region involving independent and voluntary providers so that children and parents have access to a range of provision which an individual LA might not be able to provide. There should be opportunities, including ICT links, for professionals and parents to share knowledge, expertise and experience of autism regionally.
A regional framework should also provide opportunities for regional responses to be made to Government policies, initiatives and autism-specific issues.
The 1997 report Excellence for all children, highlighted a need to improve the consistency of SEN provision across the country, so that every child gets the best education available, regardless of where they live. To help make this happen, the Department for Education and Skills (as the DCSF was then called) sponsored Regional Partnerships, formerly the SEN Regional Partnerships (SENRPs) covering all local authorities in England since April 2000.
In the first five years of their existence the Partnerships particularly focused on the needs of children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) helping to make sure that:
- the right SEN services are available to those who need them
- services are provided as efficiently as possible
- examples of best practice can be learned from and extended
- local and regional expertise is used to inform central government policy making
Many of the Partnerships chose to concentrate their work on children on the autism spectrum as a group of children who presented one of the greatest challenges. Seven of Partnerships set up ASD Working Groups to improve services for children on the autism spectrum
Their remit was to
- develop more inclusive policies and practices
- improve the efficiency and effectiveness of SEN processes and services
- make sure that Government initiatives were put into practice
- strengthen cooperation between different agencies
- respond to and engaging with Government initiatives; and extended to a broad remit of promoting inclusion and positive outcomes for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities and looked-after children.
Government funding for all the Regional Partnerships ceased in March 2008.
Hubs of effective practice in Special Educational Needs (SEN)/ Learning Difficulties, Disabilities (LDD) were introduced as part of the 07/08 National Strategies SEN programme to disseminate best practice between Local Authorities. Local Authority hubs also support the interface between local authorities and the DCSF in helping to meet the needs of children and young people with SEN.
The three major national priority areas to be supported by the Hubs in 2008/10 will be:
- The dissemination and embedding of approaches set down in the Inclusion Development Programme (IDP). Hubs have a major role in supporting local implementation and evaluating impact.
- The application of the DCSF 'Planning and Developing Special Educational Provision' guidance including its application alongside the new guidance on 'The Education of Children and Young People Experiencing Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties as a Special Educational Need'. The aim is to support Local Authorities in their plans to further develop a flexible range of provision to meet needs as part of the overall strategic approach to school organisation including Building Schools for the Future (BSF).
- Narrowing attainment gaps, progression and evaluating progress. This strand will develop local work on progression for pupils with SEN/LDD and regional input into the forthcoming national guidance on what constitutes good progress for children and young people with SEN/LDD.
The Hubs cover the 9 Government Office regions (North East, Yorkshire & Humberside, East Midlands, East Region, South Central, South West, West Midlands and North West) with 2 Hubs covering London.
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The SEN/LDD (special educational needs/learning difficulties and/or disabilities) newsletters highlight a number of developing and emerging initiatives which present schools and local authorities with key opportunities for improving the education of youngsters who have special educational needs, learning difficulties and/or disabilities. It includes information about SEN hubs
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Regional Partnerships - Archived information about the regional partnerships, their history, contact details, case studies, steering group, publications and newsletters. Between them the Regional Partnerships produce an extensive range of published material. These resources can be downloaded, or ordered as hard copies. Partnership websites are active until March 2009.
National Autism Plan for Children (NAPC) Produced by the National Initiative for Autism: Screening and Assessment (NIASA) March 2003.The Plan covers the identification, assessment, diagnosis and access to early interventions for pre-school and primary school aged children on the autism spectrum. The guidelines are for parents and all who work with children and were developed by a multi-disciplinary group of core professionals from Health, Education, Social Services, and representatives of parents and the voluntary sector.
National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Materntiy Services; Autism Exemplar The national service framework (NSF) for children, young people and maternity services has been published alongside supporting material, which includes a series of exemplar patient journeys. This one focuses on autism.
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The North East Autism Consortium (NEAC) is a partnership between statutory commissioning agencies, including Primary Care Trusts, local authorities, the Learning and Skills Council, the National Autistic Society (NAS) and the North East Centre of Excellence (NECE). Its aim is to improve the life chances and opportunities for adults and young people on the autism spectrum by developing effective collaborative commissioning strategies across the North East. The vision of the NEAC is to promote, develop and support a citizenship model of self directed support. There are 12 Local Authorities involved in the Consortium and they have been grouped together to form local, Autism Service Development Groups(ASDGs)
The Regional Partnerships below are no longer operational, but valuable information and materials is still available from their websites.
West Midlands Regional Partnership This partnership's main focus was on autism. They ran a multi-agency regional group that addressed the issues of identification, assessment, diagnosis and interventions with children on the autism spectrum. The group developed guidelines for the identification and assessment of children on the autism spectrum in the region and these have been incorporated into the National Autism Plan for Children (NIASA, 2004).
The partnership also developed an ASD Training Policy and Framework. This Training Framework and Policy document was the culmination of three years of work begun in 2003 through a West Midlands Regional Partnership working group - the West Midlands Autism Training Group It contains 5 free-standing reports:
- Identification, Assessment and Diagnosis,
- Training (including a Directory of Regional Training),
- Protocols re: Home-based Programmes
- Carers' Questionnaire Analysis
Co-ordination and collaboration between agencies is vital to provide and monitor the high standards of training that needs to be developed to meet the needs of children on the autism spectrum, their families, other service users and providers. The Regional Partnership’s Autism Training Working Groups produced protocols and guidelines which address quality issues and a framework to help identify local and regional training needs beginning with lay people through to highly specialist personnel in health and education.
East Midlands Regional Partnership worked on many areas relating to autism. Two projects looked at the knowledge and use of Direct Payments by parents/carers of children on the autism spectrum and at their involvement in commissioning. Another focused on the inclusion of able children on the autism spectrum which will be published later this year.
North East Regional Partnership, facilitated by the Regional Partnership (FINE), worked on shared definitions and assessment models; used the West Midlands ASD Training Framework and worked towards achieving standards from the National Autism Plan for Children. They also worked with the regional commissioning unit to review the need for a regional autism-specific database and to facilitate commissioning. Progress was achieved in developing locality-based, multi-disciplinary autism steering groups and extending the range of provision in local schools. The regional innovation project in the North
East region looked at extending inclusion and improving outcomes for children and young people with severe autism and presenting with challenging behaviours, by extending access for the children/young people’s workforce to specialist expertise and support.
North West Regional Partnership in conjunction with the autism support service in Merseyside produced an Autism Spectrum Disorder toolkit for transition from primary to secondary school The NW ASD Network produced KS3/4 ASD National Curriculum documents. The main thrust of the partnership’s work was the ASD/Mental Health Innovation Project (workforce development).
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