Kiplings

In which Pearl packs up her troubles in an overnight bag and smile, smile, smiles.

Horton Lodge Community Special School is adjacent to Rudyard Lake. If the name Rudyard sounds familiar, it is because two day trippers, John Lockwood Kipling and Alice McDonald, visited and liked it so much when they later married, they named their son for it.

Attached to Horton Lodge  then, is Kiplings, a part of Horton but slightly apart from it too. It offers overnight provision. Horton is not a boarding school, and nobody stays there full time. If Kiplings supports the EHCP of a child, then with the agreement of a panel they can go for one to two nights a week, reviewable every six months. I cannot begin to express how rare this provision is.

I will not go into detail how long it took to get our LA to agree to fund Pearl staying there one night a week, but it was worth the battle.

(For anyone else battling for provision some  phrases such as “equality of opportunity'” and “equality of provision”can be quite useful.  Make sure you support your requests with arguments aimed at the right department, Social Care and Education have separate budgets. Swap the request “I need respite”-not education’s problem – with “she would benefit educationally from…”)

Anyway I digress. Pearl loves Kiplings,they have worked hard on her activities of daily living (much easier in a residential setting) and her independence skills. Also my early concern that she would get out if her bed and try to get in with someone else, was fortunately incorrect..

At Kiplings they have a club, they can choose their own activities, and hang out with their friends. Horton children come school from far and wide and  the chance to go for tea or  have sleepovers with medically complex children just doesn’t arise. (Hence “equality of opportunity”). It is very, very, VERY hard to trust someone with your best beloved (no Rab, no Glory you are ALL my favourites – it’s a nifty little Rudyard Kipling reference) and the chance to be away from a child with additional needs is so very rare, many parents never get it.

Imagine then a child given fantastic care and having fun, in a setting they go to daily, with staff they know and love. Of course Pearl gets educational benefit, of course it supports her  EHCP, but also it gives her the opportunity to do something different without her family, that we can then chat about with the home school book and PODD.

Lastly it helps us. For one night, we can turn our attention to family life, Pearl’s sibs get a look in and I can switch off my hyper vigilance.

On Wednesday, for the very last time Pearl, will set off with her overnight bag for a stay in Kips.

Three cheers then for Kiplings, you know Pearl loves you because she sometimes tries to come across when it’s not her night, you know we appreciate you because we trust you with our precious Pearl, and I know we’ll miss you, because Mr PJ and I are hotfooting  off for the day and staying in a hotel overnight as the chance may never come again ( I do hope I’m joking)

 

This is part of a blog a day for Horton,to donate please click here and leave as little as much as you like.

 

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Society.

In which I propose we all be more Horton.

So here we are a bunch of sentient animals muddling along on a small blue planet. To help us pass the time, we make rules, create leaders and invent cultures.

After countless centuries of development what have we achieved on our small island?(The UK to you and me).

Fire.

The wheel.

Art, written language, the printing press, literature, public sanitation; these are all great things.

Public services, the NHS,  free education. Simply splendid.

Democracy, Government, local and national, to help manage the money system we created. Generally these things should enable us to live comfortably and safely with our neighbours. On the whole they do.

Inequality still exists on a huge scale, and without becoming too political is largely the result of the capitalist system we’ve chosen to live by. (Which is remember only a concept we invented).

As a model of where our values should lie I give you…

Horton Lodge Community Special School!

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Achievements are celebrated.

People help each other.

Elders impart knowledge to the next generation, keep them safe from harm and teach them the right way to be part of a wider group.

The more vulnerable are given extra help, but are also helped to use everything they have to give back to the community in whatever way they can.

Individuals within the community have a clear sense of their own self worth and how they fit into the wider community.

And when children leave education….

I fear they come up against historic prejudices about disability and cognitive difference.

They may hear labels used to describe them that are not life affirming.

As they are often unable to earn, they are often treated like a burden to the wider community and State.

They are treated like second class citizens.

There is no public moral outrage when they die in care or in the Health Service, their needs are sidelined because their own intrinsic worth to all of us is not recognized by the “Big Society”

They can’t use toilet facilities as they are not routinely provided for those who need Changing Places.

Poor access on public transport and in towns limits and isolates.

People do not help each other.

In short they are disabled by society.

Shame on us. Shame on our leaders. Shame on us all for allowing this to happen.

Being encouraged, helping each other, being kind, making paths straight for the road ahead, these are the basic requirements of a fair and just society.  If they are not followed we all suffer.

Tell them. Tell our leaders, tell each other.

Be kind.

Value peoples talents.

Do not judge an individuals worth on ability to earn.

Practice Pearlfulness be kind eat cake.

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Be more Horton.

This blog is part of  blog a day for Horton. You can donate here.

 

 

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Questions. Questions?

In which we impart the amazing truth that SEND children do receive an education!

When you fall pregnant, people ask you extraordinary questions. “Was it planned?” was perhaps the most insensitive, but if that baby has a disability or other needs peoples self monitoring really takes your breath away.

Thus, on a weekday in term time I am regularly asked “where’s Pearl?”

I know I’m not alone in this, and I can’t quite work out why.

Perhaps the wider public only see SEND children “in extremis”on DIY SOS or Children in Need. Maybe they think that these children are ill, lying in invalid chairs, and being kept out of the sun? Or are they permanently hospitalized? Seems unlikely that they believe that Pearl is at home with me, while I home educate her, as it must be obvious I have the patience of a dead hedgehog.

I’ll let you all in to a little secret, you may not see Pearl in the local primary, but that is because  she is busy honing her leadership skills at her excellent special school Horton Lodge.

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Children with additional needs are in fact children too! Who knew ? They laugh, cry and demand attention just like their  neurotypical friends, and like them, they mainly go to school! They may miss more lessons because of medical appointments, they may fall ill more often, and more severely. When they are well, off to school they go. It is (as I told my older two when they didn’t want to go in) the law of the land.

Historically Special Schools kept children occupied during the day, the best obviously achieved more, but expectations were not high.

Several decades ago, during my SALT training, schools were separated into Moderate Learning  Difficulties, Severe Learning Difficulties and Physically Handicapped.

Shortly after this integration became the gold standard and many specialist special schools were closed to allow people to be taught together in mainstream. Unfortunately integration without extra money or training often led to lip service being given to integration, while pupils were isolated in a separate room with a TA. Generic special schools began to cater for the more complex children,and now specialist provision for autism is also on the rise.

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What does this tell us about Special Education? Well, like general educational provision it is ruled by the will and whim of the political elite, and similarly affected by lack of resources. Special Schools require Ofsted reports and a Governing Body. They too can become Academies, and also follow the National Curriculum.

BUT, and here’s the thing, they follow a diversified, enriched curriculum.The subject headings are the same, but the means of covering them, and the level at which they are covered, is guided by the individual learners ability and style of learning.

It could be argued that all teachers should be able to do this, and that education should be an enjoyable, enriching path to a lifetimes learning, but that dear reader is to underestimate the vital necessity of league tables, marks and passing and failing  to our daily lives. Well quite.

SEND children are educated in mainstream with TA support, at home by parents with more patience than this one, or Special School with intervention from various therapies and School Nurses alongside the teaching staff.They will learn in a variety of ways, some passing exams and going onto further study, some following a sensory curriculum and learning to react and express themselves in different ways.

A few really lucky ones will end up at Horton Lodge Community Special School,where they will leave with amazing self esteem, a can do attitude and a general belief that they are the equal of anyone. Shouldn’t that be the aim of education?

Does this approach prepare them for the real world? More on that tomorrow…..

This blog is part of a blog a day for Horton.If you’ve enjoyed it a donation to the PFSA can be made here.To find out more about Conductive Education in action check here.

 

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Zen and the Art of Extreme Parenting.

In which I wake up crying, and try to put it into words.

As you have been graciously following the inane ramblings of a parent carer, I thought you may like to join me on the next stage – how to stay calm while dealing with extreme  pressure to parent fully and effectively.

I have recently become interested in extreme sports and have been considering amazing feats of daring-do and endurance. Maybe this is an age thing (46 as our local paper was keen to pointlessly share) or maybe it’s a growing awareness that life is short.

I suspect it is more to do with the fact that jumping off the side of a bridge attached to an elastic seems a great deal easier than parenting my three children.

Before I start, can I just say that parenting is difficult. All parenting is difficult. Childcare is difficult. It can be tricky, keeping small people safe let alone moulding them into useful and delightful members of society. It can be boring. Anybody who has watched  a friend who is a party loving wild child turn into an exhausted zombie, unable to stay awake after 7.30pm, will know what a baby can do to a person.

My personal view is that if you get to the end of a day, haven’t killed,maimed or lost anyone and  you’ve all been fed, you are a successful parent. If the house is clean and tidy that’s a bonus. If you have completed an improving craft activity with child/children you deserve a medal. If you have managed to arrange some lemons in a ceramic dish, photograph it and put it on Instagram, you probably need professional help.

Let me tell you what parenting in extremis looks like. In my case, qualifying as an extreme parent, includes a preexisting tendency to depression, which is largely managed with careful monitoring. Add a lack of sleep, and constant physical exertion, so that you no longer have the mental resources to carry that monitoring out.

You will be responsible for a small non verbal person, with physical and some health and behavioural issues. (Let’s call her Pearl) She will be prepubescent and in thrall to hormones that she cannot understand or explain. As well as this you will have a filing cabinet (or two) of information on her to keep up to date and in order. Somehow you will also have the role of coordinating all her care, and communicating across disciplines.You may have a Family Support Worker who has roles that don’t appear to match her title, and both she and you are not certain of what they are. Social care ‘support’ will make you want to cry. You will have to travel across counties and sometimes at short notice to a vast array of appointments. You will absolutely not be able to keep up your professional role, and end up doing your husbands admin with a very bad grace.

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You will also be responsible for a 15 year old male of the species. He will cleverly have been harbouring Asperger’s Syndrome until the age of 11. There will have been many signs of this scattered liberally through his life, but as you are busy  extreme parenting the small person, you haven’t noticed. You will continue not noticing until he becomes suicidal at the age of 11, and is advised to leave school at the age of thirteen. You will be expected to deal with having a very sad stressed person at home for 18 months while receiving minimal support. You will lock up all the knives and medication,and live in a state of hypervigilism, realising that the one thing you want for your children, that they would be happy, is not under your control. You,my friend will have to deal with an extraordinarily unhelpful and overstretched CAMHS department, find a new school and ask for  one of the first EHC in the LA (and country). You will learn about autism, watch him become well adjusted and in tune with himself, and try to hold your nerve while he wants to move back into the very mainstream setting which caused him pain, for his A levels.

You now have to guide an 18 year old female, who has taken it upon herself to be The Glory of the clan, through extreme social anxiety, watch as she refuses all help and begins to spiral downwards into depression. At this stage base jumping looks like a walk in the park. Offering support while also giving her room to make her own choices, pushing her academically while recognising that her mental health being stable is so much more important, will be the most difficult balancing act you have embarked on. Her school will be limited in the support it can offer, counselling will be in short supply and variable, and CAMHS, well you have seen the help they offer already.

When you wake up in the morning wanting to cry, out of touch with your own needs and feeling that you, and you alone have caused this myriad of difficulties take heart. In your dreams you may have been a more, Little House on the Prairie type parent. Remember Laura Ingalls running through a sunny field? Do you also remember the lack of running water, decent sanitation and washing machine?

I see you, fellow extreme parents. I see you and weep for you, for your situation, and for the poor and patchy support you are receiving in your taxing, thankless dirty, painful jobs. I have had coffee with some of you, and railed against the system and your situations. I have lost sleep over a country that prioritises academic achievement over the good mental health of its children, and who makes accessing support so difficult that some of you just give up asking.

An older woman of my aquaintance told me that love covers everything, and smooths out any parenting mistakes you may make. I hope she’s right.

So, if you like me have accidentally become an extreme parent what do you do? I expect you are waiting for the Zen moment? I’ll let you know.In the meantime I’ll try to practice Pearlfulness TM and be grateful for Gilmour Girls on Netflix.

 

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If like me you are struggling with extreme parenting take a look at this graphic from Carer’s UK.

 

How to Win Friends and Influence People (L.A. edition)

In which the system is broken, and no-one applies common sense to fix it.

It is a New Year, time to look forward with hope at the exciting times ahead. Much as I’m trying to move forward with a song in my heart and a spring in my step (other cliches are available) I am having some difficulty.

Is this because my youngest daughter has a myriad of health, educational and physical challenges. Not entirely.

Is it because my eldest, The Glory, is beset by mental health problems and struggling to find her way through her tricky eighteenth year? Well partly.

Is it because Aspie teen is preparing to transition from a very supportive Special provision at GCSE back into the mainstream setting that caused him pain for A Levels (his choice) Well take your pick.

But actually the thing that is causing me the most stress, chaos and down right anger is my local authority and the way they choose to implement direct payments.

Have you heard of Direct Payments? They are an excellent idea for increasing independence and inclusion. In theory.

Pearl is entitled to support in our local community by a Personal Assistant.As her needs are quite significant, we are able to access 6 hours direct payments for  support per week in term time and 14 in the holiday.

We are able to use this money in a way that  supports Pearl. Initially she attended Rainbows with a Personal Assistant, and I had someone in to help with housework and ironing too. This was recognised as freeing up my time to spend, one to one with Pearl.

As a parent, you have to be very organised to benefit from this system.You have to keep good records (we have a separate bank account) and all receipts.This is all well and good, after all this is tax payers money and an account must be given.You have to find the PA, set up their contract, submit time sheets and pay wages. In effect you have become an employer.

Every year the situation is reviewed and every year you have to submit all the paper work. Our Local Authority regularly believes that asking a parent to submit all the paper work over a half term holiday, when the child in question is at home, with a week deadline, and veiled threats that benefits will be stopped if the date isn’t met is OK. It isn’t, and also it’s unnecessary and shows bad planning on their part.This however is not the thing that has riled me so considerably today.

Last year it was recognised, that we need more hours.It does tend to benefit the system if Carers don’t break. The money immediately started to flood into the account. Marvellous. Finding a PA isn’t instant. It takes a very particular person to work with my girl.They need to know how she works, what her medical needs are, how to communicate with her, and how to administer emergency meds amongst other things.When someone has been found they need to spend time working alongside us and/or the existing PA  and getting to know Pearl, for their peace of mind and ours. As I was increasingly stressed by my caring role I thought it would help to use some of the money for help round the house while the new PA was being found. But no.The system had changed without me being told.This was now a luxury and not allowed. I was a horrible entitled middle class woman for even suggesting it.

It took 6 months to get a new PA up and running alongside our existing (and absolutely marvellous) current PA. During this time the money was beginning to back up.It is absolutely not supposed to do this, because it proves that you probably didn’t need it anyway you grubby little scrounger (sorry I mean valued Carer) The new PA was good, but has not been able to fit her hours around what we need. More money backed up. I’ve been struggling with appointments for all three children and have not had time to source another PA-there is not a one stop PA shop where you can find them.More money backed up.

Pearl attends a residential  at her school  once a week, term time.Paid for by education,it supports her statement.It is awesome (and before you envy my luck it took two years of ‘negotiation’ with the same local authority to get it put in place).One morning while pondering PAs I had a brain wave, perhaps I could use this backlog as a one off, for Pearl to attend a few extra nights at residential? She loves it.As well as working on Activities for Daily Living (washing and dressing to you and me) she has club activities and spends time with her friends. We could afford three extra nights in total.I reckon she could do two nights once a month. the backlog would have been cleared, she would have benefitted, we would have benefitted. Sorted. In principle education would be happy with this, they are not used to billing parents directly, but if my LA gave us the go ahead, as it was effectively a one off they would explore it.

Well,I have to administer the accounts, find the support,pay the wage bills, train, sort contracts, organise liabilities insurance, and keep records.I am not however allowed to come up with ideas because I’m clearly incompetent. A meeting will be held, a panel meeting where this will be proposed. I am not allowed to attend. It’s  not my job and it is likely to be rejected because it’s not usually done.

As a parent this system, designed to support Pearl,has made me feel patronised, unsupported, disempowered. Guilty. Angry. Stressed.Undervalued and misunderstood.

I have to believe this isn’t the LA intention?

So what can be done?

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Avoid isolating parents.

It  is not enough to have a ‘Parent Partnership’  in existence and then treat parents in day to day transactions like naughty children who cannot be trusted.

Give each parent written instructions of what Direct Payments can be used for.Make it the same for all parents across the county, because do you know what?  We talk to each other.

Give each parent a fixed date annually in advance to produce the paperwork.

Put the use of payments in line with the adult service users agreement.

Give family support workers a clear idea of the system and the ability to implement it.As nothing is set in stone they basically have good intentions and no idea.

Remember that many parents have not had their own business, or worked in management positions,and they are under constant stress and probably functioning in sleep deficit.Give parents support to get the system up and running.

As long as the money is being used for the benefit of the child, ethically and legally let it be used.The system has put in in place because you,LA,recognise support is needed.So support.

One last thing.We know the system is being squeezed, we recognise your jobs are tough and unrewarding, but you get to go home at the end of the day,and retire.

Some of us are in this for the long haul.

 

 

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