Astrid leading a presentation

Astrid - EHCP expert and advice worker

We interviewed our advice worker, Astrid, to tell us about her role and support with Education, Health and Care Plans for parents and carers of a child with special educational needs.

The Coronavirus Act temporarily amended certain rules related to Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). Special Needs Jungle explains what the changes mean for parent carers.

While the EHCP drop-ins and workshops are currently postponed, you can call Astrid for EHCP information, advice and support on 020 8649 6283 or email astridmacabee@carersinfo.org.uk

What is your role?

I am an Advice Worker for the Carers Information Service. I advise carers, which is very broad and includes people caring for older people and parent carers. I also have expertise in Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and special educational needs (SEN) support, and run EHCP workshops and drop-ins.

You do a lot of work helping parent carers with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). What is an EHCP, and why is it important?

An EHCP is a legal document written by the local authority. It lists all the child’s difficulties, their SEN needs and the provision needed. It follows the child throughout their education and its main purpose is to ensure children are provided with tailor-made support based on their needs, so that they can access the curriculum, learn and make progress.

The EHCP is not a static document; it changes with the child. That’s why an EHCP is amended every year (every six months if the child is under 5) via the Annual Review process, which involves the all-important Annual Review meeting that usually takes place in school.

What did you do before you joined the Carers Information Service?

Just before I joined I was an Independent Supporter for Family Lives. When the SEN Reforms came into force in 2015, replacing statements with EHCP, the role of Independent Support was created by the government to support parents with the transition. That’s how I gained my EHCP knowledge.

Before that I was a volunteer co-ordinator at North Kensington Law Centre. I started out as a volunteer and when the co-ordinator role came up I applied. I loved it there. I’m fascinated by all things legal.

I’ve done a lot of volunteering - visiting parents with Home Start Croydon and volunteering with the Witness Service. I supported court witnesses to help them feel comfortable. Court witnesses are often anxious so I showed them around the building and where they needed to go before the trial so they felt more comfortable.

What do you do on a typical work day?

There’s no typical day! Sometimes I have to cover the Advice Desk on the ground floor. Normally, I check voicemails and call people back. I also check emails and work on my my never ending ‘to do’ list.

What is one of your highlights about working at the Carers Information Service?

The team. What I like is that everyone brings something, their own strength. I think we’re a super team! We can have a giggle but we do the work. It’s a nice atmosphere. I also like being there to support carers and answer their queries.

What is one of the challenges?

The challenge is balancing EHCP work with advice work. I don’t want to detriment advice work with my work on EHCPs. I have to manage carers’ expectations as to how I can support them, especially for carers who knew me when I was working for Family Lives.

How do you help parents and carers with EHCPs?

I run the EHCP drop-in taking place every other Wednesday in term time - four slots of 30 minutes. I also deliver three EHCP workshops per term (How to apply for an EHCP, How to amended a draft EHCP, Understanding the EHCP Annual Review Process). I sometimes offer one-to-one meetings, but as my time is limited I usually only offer this support to the most vulnerable parents. I’m happy to liaise with parents, send templates and give feedback by email. It’s quicker for the parent and time saving for me.

I can have a look at a draft EHCP and give feedback, but I can’t go into all the details due to time constraints. I strongly recommend parents attend workshops, where they can learn more about how to amend a draft EHCP, for example.

What advice would you give to the family of a disabled child who is struggling at school?

Get a copy of the SEN Code of Practice. You can download it online but I suggest purchasing a paper copy, so you can flick through and take it to meetings.

If the child is in a mainstream school, the two key documents I strongly recommend parents read and keep copies of are the school’s SEN policy and their SEND report. These documents should be on the school’s website. If the school isn’t following these documents, that’s a red flag.

It’s also important for parents to meet with the SENCO (special educational needs coordinator). The SENCO manages support for children with special educational needs at a particular school. They are responsible for setting up the school’s SEN plan.

If the child goes to a special school, the EHCP annual review can address any issues. If the situation is more urgent, you can ask for a meeting with the child’s teacher or the headteacher.

What are your hobbies outside of the office?

Spending time with my sons, healthy cooking, dancing, exercising and travelling.

What motivates you?

Learning something new every day and making a difference in someone’s life.

Name one person who inspires you and why

There’s no one person. I’m inspired every day by people on social media or in everyday life, their struggles and what they do about them. Everyone can be an inspiration.

Describe your role in three words

Busy, Rewarding, Empowering.

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