A number of parents and children gathered on Saturday to protest against East Sussex County Council’s plans to handover respite provision at Grove Park Special School in Crowborough to the school to run.
The club offers support and quality care for pupils, aged between for 4-18 at Grove Park after school, at weekends and during school holidays. Up until now the club has been run by East Sussex County Council, but parents have recently been notified that the club is being handed over to the school to run. ESCC are giving the school a budget of just £2,000 to support the club. As Angie Smith, from Wealden Constituency Labour Party explained, parents fear that at best this will allow the club to operate for only a few weeks:
The school have advised parents that there is no way the club can exist in its current form. Some staff have already received redundancy notices. It is certain that the if the club continues to exist, then this will be in a much-reduced capacity. There is every danger that the club will shut, ultimately. This would be devastating for both pupils who use the club and their parents. Many of these pupils are very vulnerable and thrive on stability – any change will be very difficult and stressful. For the parents, the club is a valuable source of respite and allows many parents to work. This provision will be virtually impossible to replicate.
Jane Crawford, who helped to organise the demonstration alongside Angie Smith, explained the difficulty that curtailing this respite provision will create for herself and her family:
For my son the repercussions will be hugely significant. Scott is 16 years old and is autistic with severe learning difficulties. He has attended the club since it began and was dramatically impacted when the service was reduced a couple of years ago from every Saturday and every weekday after school to two Saturdays a month and no club on a Monday.
My son’s behaviour escalated dramatically at this time both at home and at school which was clearly his way of communicating his elevated anxiety regarding this change to his routine and the reduction in his access to a service which he clearly enjoys. There are very few opportunities for my son to access leisure services and facilities and even in the very few that are accessible for him, they require one-to-one support from either my husband or myself. So the impending reduction and possible eventual demise of the club is extremely worrying for my family as we will inevitably have to support my son’s increased anxiety and resulting challenging behaviour which may then require increased social care support as we struggle to cope.
An East Sussex County Council spokesman said:
We have consulted on proposals to change the way after-school and holiday clubs based in special schools across the county are run.
Although not something we have a statutory duty to provide, we have historically funded these clubs. Cuts in Government funding mean the council has had to make £110 million of savings since the start of the decade and a further £17 million this financial year. We are having to review how all of our services are delivered, and focus our increasingly limited resources on providing statutory and critical services in the future.
The proposals for after-school and holiday clubs in special schools were drawn up following discussions with special school head teachers and the East Sussex Parent and Carer Council, and include an offer of 18 months of funding to allow special schools to start and provide a service tailored to their school.
Feedback from the consultation will be considered when a final decision on changes to the service is made in July.
Campaigners are planning another demonstration at County Hall and wish to highlight other cuts to children’s and adults disability services, including cancellation of respite placements, cutting transport to school and the dwindling of positive provision for young people with disabilities post-18.