scene that visually communicates the challenges faced by parents navigating the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process

5 Reasons Parents Need Mental Health Support During The EHCP Process: Solutions

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Embarking on the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process for your child can feel like navigating through a storm; it’s a period marked by initial high hopes and steep challenges. For parents, the journey often brings a unique set of emotional trials, underscoring the critical need for mental health support. Recognising this, we delve into the five pivotal reasons why bolstering parents’ mental well-being isn’t just beneficial—it’s essential. From the relentless paperwork, chasing, clarifying, and correcting to the emotional rollercoaster of advocacy, this guide not only lays bare the pressures you’re likely facing but also offers practical, compassionate solutions to navigate this complex path. We will also explore how we can help support your mental health, ensuring you’re not just surviving the EHCP process, but thriving alongside your child.

Reason 1: The Stress of Navigating the EHCP/SEND System

Challenge: The end of the start, of the beginning

The journey to secure an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) for a child can be long, and overwhelming. The process is complex to the point that two children with the same diagnosis can in effect receive 2 different outcomes, especially when considering additional factors of Local Authorities, the parent’s advocacy skills and most crucially the expert evidence collected and presented.

The very beginning of this process can be one of broad agreement, between parents and educators to make an application for an Education Health and Care Assessment or one that lacks no initial support. Beyond its theoretical purpose, the real-world challenges of obtaining an EHCP can often appear to be the costs and the legal obligations of the council to commit additional costs and resources to the named child on the plan. These factors often override what initially appears to be a straightforward application process on paper.

Impact on Mental Health:

The Ideal vs. The Reality of the EHCP Process

The Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process is undeniably crucial for children with special needs. However, for parents, especially those venturing into the area of advocacy, lobbying, and negotiation, for the first time, it can be a labyrinth of stress and uncertainty. We must pause for a moment, and reflect, that parents before being parents were young adults, and possibly still are young adults, and before they were young adults, they were indeed students of the very education system they are battling their child to access. In law, every child has a right to access education, the recognition the parent is battling for access to this basic right is just the beginning, and possibly not even the end of the beginning of this process.

  • Lengthier Process: The actual time it takes to complete the EHCP process can be much longer than anticipated. Has anyone experienced a 20-day end-to-end turnaround for an EHCP?
  • Complex Bureaucracy: Parents might find the system more bureaucratic and less flexible than expected. This is not buying a product from an online store.
  • Resource Gaps: There may be a notable gap between the support and resources theoretically available and what is practically accessible or provided even when the EHCP is in place.
  • Advocacy Challenges: The need for stronger advocacy skills than anticipated, due to discrepancies between a child’s assessed needs and the support offered, or the lack of agreement of the child’s need.

One parent’s personal view

Drawing on some of the collected experiences, from those who have been in the process, there is often an expressed view of the gap between what should be followed by the Local Authority and Educators to what is followed. One parent at a school meeting took a printout of the school’s own SEND roadmap, pointing out the ‘blue skies’ of a ‘well-thought-through’ provision map, to the reality of their child being set extremely low-level Maths in the back of the class. The blank expression, of those looking at the school’s marketing presented little comfort that natural justice is a drink served cold. This particular parent would go on to secure an EHCP for their child and said the same thing happened around “the Annual Review, there was a gap between on-the-ground reality and the paper discussions in the room, it felt like a parallel universe.”

The Send Code of Practice, as it appears on paper looks and feels all-encompassing, but the experience of delivery is sometimes wanting.

The problems begin where there is a gap between ‘what should be happening’ based on your opinion and perceptions against a resolute set of alternative opinions. The wider these 2 positions are the greater the level of stress and anxiety one is likely to experience.

Tips on navigating the EHCP process in the early days:

  • Educate yourself on the EHCP process and try to set realistic expectations. Gather where possible from others’ personal experiences, and read forums, and blog posts on the topic area. Where there are commonly voiced themes on delay, lack of resourcing, lack of following due process, being ignored etc., do not be so hard on yourself if you too may encounter these same characteristics
  • Seek support, move away from isolation to shared inclusion
  • Consider professional guidance and reach out to the ECHParent if you are interested in specific 1 to 1 guidance, use the contacts on the page.

Reason 2: The Identification of Needs, Are we talking about the same child?

Challenge: A Tale of Two Paths

Just when do you decide your child needs help? and what sort of help? The EHCP process requires the Local Authority to agree the child should be assessed for eligibility for an EHC Plan. This is called an EHC Assessment. There is a formal process to follow to request an EHC assessment which the council can agree or disagree to assess. This for some is the first engagement with the ‘system’ and an early indicator of the broad support (or lack of) for the direction of travel in securing an EHC Plan. There is an appeal process associated with every step of the way, some may find the process on the whole in line with expectations, some may encounter some setbacks, and some may well require the use of the appeal process, mediation and ultimately SENDIST (tribunal) to gain agreement.

Why would there be opposition to securing an EHCP?

Good question, the process is an evidence-based, needs-based process, just because you feel something is required is not sufficient for something to be provided. However, some parents have reflected that their initial application for help remained spot on several years later when that help was finally defined.

Many children navigate primary school with their specific needs either quietly met within the classroom dynamics or, regrettably, missed altogether. It’s not that these needs suddenly emerge when they transition to secondary school; rather, the primary school environment might inadvertently cater to the child without formally acknowledging their SEN. The risk here, without expert input, was the child’s needs, ever actually met, or was the child in the corner set an increasing level of unchallenging work to contend with?

One parent told me their child with SEN with associated supported provisions could do calculations without paper, and quite quickly. The debate they had with the school, without much sway of change, was why their child was going over the same basic level of sums several years below their actual age. After the child moved on from that school they reflected that the provisions the child required were easier to implement when the academic content was low. We will never know the other side of the story why the lack of apparent challenge, the process has inbuilt;t checks and balances, which it is fair to say appeared to be ineffective in changing the direction of travel.

In my discussions with other parents, a recurring theme emerged which raised anxiety: the tangible evidence required for the EHC Needs assessment, such as their child’s schoolwork and test scores, suddenly became elusive. One parent recounted a telling experience at their child’s parent-teacher meeting. As they sifted through a stack of test papers, they realised out of 29 papers their child’s assessment was conspicuously missing. The teacher, seemingly caught off-guard, couldn’t provide the paper or even recall the score, or where the paper was. This paper, another input into the process for the EHCP process, remained mysteriously absent throughout. Fortunately, despite these hurdles and a process that felt more obstructive than supportive, their child eventually secured an EHCP. The parent reflected that the scores were eventually released a year later which provided the view that indeed year on year the child was not progressing. We have no insight from the other side, but the damage to the process was in their view a real one, and their personally held view was one of ‘obstruction’. They balanced this with a positive view of the next school that went beyond the call of duty with their support.

It is worth making point of the duality of experiences presented, amongst the more questionable experiences there are some gems of forward-thinking teachers, TAs who are there to help all in their class and do their best under the circumstances of what from the other side may be a challenging unsupported system.

From my vantage point, and echoing the sentiments of many in similar situations, there’s a palpable hesitancy embedded in the system. The threshold to secure an EHCP is set high, often dauntingly so. While the intent might be to ensure resources are allocated judiciously, it sometimes misses the mark, failing to address the core of a child’s learning challenges.

More tips identifying the child’s needs:

  • Maintain open communication with teachers and school officials, this is rule 101, but is more challenging as time goes on, and may just require seeking additional help or support.
  • Regularly document and gather evidence of your child’s needs and progress, if you cannot gain clarity from the school, what is plan b?
  • Seek external assessments if you believe the current level of support isn’t adequately addressing your child’s needs.

Reason 3: Request for Educational Health Care Plan Needs Assessment:

Request for Assessment: After passing the first hurdle of gathering enough evidence the next stage is to formally request an EHCP assessment. This request can be initiated in a couple of ways:

  1. Through the Education Setting: Often, the school or educational institution itself, recognizing the child’s needs, will initiate the request. They’ll gather evidence from teachers’ observations, academic performance records, or other professionals who’ve interacted with the child. This evidence will support the case for an assessment.
  2. Parental Request using Section 36: If parents believe their child’s needs aren’t being adequately addressed by the school, they can make a direct request to the local authority for an EHCP assessment under Section 36 of the Children and Families Act 2014. This section allows parents (and young people themselves) to request an assessment for an EHCP. When submitting a Section 36 request, it’s crucial to provide as much evidence as possible about the child’s needs and any support they’ve received so far.

Once the request is submitted, the local authority will review the evidence presented. The outcome can be one of two:

  1. Agreement: The local authority agrees that an assessment is necessary and will proceed with the EHCP process.
  2. Refusal: The local authority might decide that there’s insufficient evidence to warrant an assessment. In such cases, parents have the right to appeal this decision, but it’s essential to be prepared with strong evidence to support the need for an EHCP.

Once a need is identified, a formal request for an EHCP assessment can be made. This request can be initiated by parents, the school, or other professionals involved in the child’s care.

Drafting the EHCP: If the assessment determines that an EHCP is needed, a draft plan is created. This draft outlines the child’s needs, the desired outcomes, and the support required to achieve those outcomes.

Finalising the Plan: Parents have the opportunity to review the draft, provide feedback, and request changes. Once all parties agree, the EHCP is finalized and implemented.

Understanding these initial steps can help parents feel more prepared and informed as they embark on the EHCP journey.

Tips on requesting an EHC Needs assessment

  • Familiarise yourself with the criteria the local authority uses to grant assessments. Get on top of the right way and build the evidence to challenge what you think is the wrong approach or outcome.
  • Collaborate with teachers and professionals to gather robust evidence. See the point above, often easier said than done.
  • Understand your rights, including the ability to appeal decisions. Become empowered in the process, the policy, and the law.

4. Impact on Siblings:

The EHCP process, while centred around the child with special educational needs, inevitably affects the entire family, including siblings. The siblings of a child undergoing the EHCP process might experience a range of emotions and challenges:

  1. Feelings of Neglect: With parents often engrossed in meetings, paperwork, and advocacy, siblings might feel left out or believe that their needs are secondary.
  2. Emotional Overwhelm: Siblings might struggle with feelings of sadness, frustration, or confusion about their brother’s or sister’s needs and the attention they receive.
  3. Desire to Help: Many siblings naturally want to support and help, but they might not know how or might feel overwhelmed by the responsibility.
  4. School and Social Impacts: Siblings might face questions from peers or feel the need to defend or explain their sibling’s condition, leading to potential social challenges.

To support siblings during this time, parents can:

  • Open Communication: Regularly check in with siblings, allowing them to express their feelings and ask questions.
  • Quality Time: Ensure they spend one-on-one time with each child, emphasizing that each child is valued and loved.
  • Educate: Help siblings understand the EHCP process and their brother’s or sister’s needs in age-appropriate terms.
  • Seek Support: Consider support groups or counselling for siblings, providing them with a safe space to process their emotions and learn coping strategies.

Tips on Supporting Siblings of SEN childrhen

  • Maintain open communication with siblings, allowing them to express their feelings.
  • Dedicate quality time for each child, ensuring they feel valued.
  • Consider support groups, and always balance quality time out
  • Consider the concept of Special Education discussion time-out zones

5. The Emotional Toll of Raising a Child with Special Needs

Raising a child with special needs can be emotionally challenging. Parents may experience feelings of guilt, grief, and frustration as they navigate their child’s diagnosis and try to provide them with the best possible care. It’s important for parents to prioritise their mental health so they can cope with these emotions and provide their children with the support they need.

The Impact of Parental Mental Health on the Child

Parents’ mental health can have a significant impact on their child’s well-being. Children may pick up on their parent’s stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate their own feelings of anxiety or make them feel unsafe or insecure. Conversely, when parents prioritise their own mental health, they may be better able to provide their child with a sense of safety and stability.

Solution Options

  • Prioritise self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.
  • Seek therapy or counseling to process emotions and develop coping strategies. The Bohangar City Practice uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to work on rebalancing anxiety and stress levels, but there are other options
  • Engage in support groups or forums to connect with other parents in similar situations.

The Importance of Self-Care for Parents, Guardians & Caregivers

Caregivers, including parents, often neglect their own needs in order to prioritise the needs of their loved ones. However, it’s important for parents to take care of themselves so they can continue to provide the best possible care for their children. This may include engaging in self-care activities like exercise, meditation, or spending time with friends and family.

The Importance of Advocating for Your Own Mental Health Needs

Parents may feel like they need to prioritise their child’s needs above their own, but it’s important for them to recognise that their own mental health needs are just as important.

This may mean advocating for their own needs in the EHCP process, seeking out support from mental health professionals, or taking time to engage in self-care activities. Resources for Parents to Support Their Mental HealthThere are many resources available to parents who are seeking support for their mental health.

These may include therapy, support groups, mindfulness practices, and self-care activities. Parents can also reach out to their child’s healthcare providers or school officials for recommendations on resources that may be available to them.

Navigating the EHCP Process: A Therapist’s Personal Insight

Why My Experience Matters

Having personally lived, navigated, and survived the Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) process, I bring a unique perspective to therapy. This isn’t just theoretical knowledge; it’s a relatable journey that can’t be gleaned from books or videos. My experience offers:

  • Empathy and Validation: I understand the challenges, emotions, and stresses you face. This firsthand knowledge allows me to offer genuine empathy and validation during our sessions.
  • Practical Insight: Engaging with educational settings, local authorities, mediation, or SENDIST can be daunting. Whether you’re at the beginning, in the midst, or reflecting post-process, I can provide practical insights based on my own experiences.
  • Guidance Through Nuances: The EHCP process involves intricate interactions with school officials, healthcare providers, and tribunal processes. My experience can light the way, offering hope in what can sometimes feel like a solitary battle against a daunting system.

In essence, therapy with someone who has personally navigated the EHCP process can offer invaluable support, helping you remain positive, manage stress, and effectively traverse the journey.

Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy: A Tailored Approach

Session Structure: Typically spanning 8-12 sessions, I offer therapy at strategic points throughout your EHCP journey. These sessions can be conducted online or face-to-face, depending on location. I also provide flexibility with daytime and some late-night sessions to accommodate your schedule.

What It Entails: Cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy is a fusion of cognitive-behavioural therapy and hypnosis, proven effective in alleviating stress and anxiety symptoms. For parents immersed in the EHCP process, this therapy offers:

  • Stress and Anxiety Management: Identify and replace negative thought patterns contributing to stress and anxiety. Techniques like relaxation, imagery, and cognitive restructuring are reinforced through hypnosis.
  • Building Resilience: Equip yourself with coping skills and resilience to better support your child throughout the EHCP process.
  • Prioritizing Mental Health: By focusing on your mental well-being, you’re better positioned to offer emotional support to your child, fostering a positive home environment.

In summary, Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy serves as a potent tool for parents, helping manage the stresses of the EHCP process while enhancing both personal and child well-being.

References

Below are some external references that can provide further insight and validation to the content discussed:

  1. EHCP Process
    • Department for Education. (2015). SEND code of practice: 0 to 25 years. Link
    • Wright, P. W. D., & Wright, P. D. (2006). From emotions to advocacy: The special education survival guide. Harbor House Law Press.
  2. Stress and Anxiety Management
    • Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognitive therapy and research, 36(5), 427-440. Link
  3. Stress and Anxiety Management
    • National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Anxiety Disorders. Link

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