We work with autistic young people with complex needs, and their families, and we listen to them and understand the issues that are important to them regarding their education and care.

Our main hopes for the approach of a new government to SEND provision for those with high levels of need are below. In fact we cannot imagine a system which remains sustainable without action in these areas.

1. End the adversarial system of accessing special needs education and care

Every young person in our care is funded by a statutory package, so each one is entitled to the support we provide. However every family, without exception, have had to ‘fight’ Local Authority resistance, in the majority of cases to the stage of a tribunal.

There must be a different settlement in place so Local Authorities can comply with their legal duties without families being put under the extreme stress and cost of fighting the system. The principal cost is the trauma, and loss of school time, which impacts directly on the young person.

2. Early assessment and life-course planning

It is possible in most cases to identify at an early age which children may need more intensive support as they progress through childhood and young adulthood. Planning, including nominal budget provision, could then be put in place to make that support as timely, effective, and value for money as possible, with the maximum amount of engagement with the young person themselves and their family.

This should extend into the period where young people transition into adult services, which is often at age 25 for those with relatively high levels of need. We support the recommendations of the KIDS charity report On the Cliff Edge.

3. National commissioning framework for complex needs

Packages of support for young people with very high levels of need are relatively unusual, with a small number nationally of around 5,000. It is a highly specialist area, with relatively high costs per placement due to the level and type of support required. This means that most Local Authorities will only be managing a handful of these placements, many of out area, and yet they are commissioned from the same budget and departments as other SEND provision.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel in its report into safeguarding children with disabilities and complex health needs in residential settings (2022/23) identified that a lack of recognition of the complexity of a child’s needs in commissioning is a systemic risk factor for abuse.

There should be specialist national commissioning introduced (as there is for specialist services in the NHS) or a strong national framework to guide local commissioning.

We are members of the Autism Alliance which is calling for a national commissioner for autism. The Kids charity is calling for a government minister for SEND. BASW is calling for a national lead commissioner for services for people with autism, learning disabilities and complex needs. Any of these resources could be part of a national safeguard for good commissioning which is consistent wherever a person happens to live (regardless of the financial health of their Local Authority).

4. Workforce plan

The biggest restrictive factor in providing education and care for complex needs is the availability of staff. This ranges from frontline care workers, to teachers, to therapists, to nurses, to experienced and qualified managers in all those disciplines. The more complex the level of needs being supported the more challenging it is to recruit, train and support the staff required to deliver a quality service.

There are many aspects to a workforce plan, including funding for training and access to qualifications. However to be very clear, the key aspect is salary.

Statutory care packages are priced so that the provider has no option but to pay minimal levels for staff, particularly social care staff. We believe fundamentally that care staff, and other specialist professionals, deserve a higher level of pay.

Recruitment is so difficult primarily because the artificially-controlled pay rates of staff who are funded from statutory budgets have fallen below market level. Other roles with similar or greater levels of access, such as retail and hospitality, can often offer more money, as well as arguably being less challenging. Combined with restrictions on international work visas, the delivery of a good quality and value for money service cannot be guaranteed in the long term if this situation prevails.

Ryan Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, Prior's Court