A seven-year-old boy being bullied because he can’t read or write is being let down by a failing special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system which is ‘on its knees’, according to his desperate mum.
Amy Hannah, who organised a protest against cuts to SEND services on Thursday, described the inadequate support for children with disabilities as a “national scandal” as she opened up about her five-year battle to get a diagnosis for her little boy, Marley.
Marley, from Widnes , struggles to communicate, lacks social skills, has behavioural issues, can’t read or write and hasn’t developed emotionally at the same rate as his peers, his mum said.
She claims a range of health professionals have said they believe Marley, who is prone to meltdowns triggered by senses such as smell and sound, displays obvious symptoms of autism and ADHD.
But despite being referred to a specialist children’s centre in Widnes at the age of two, seven-year-old Marley is yet to be diagnosed as having any special educational needs.
Amy, 27, said: “He has not got an official diagnosis but it is obvious he has got it [ADHD and autism]. His case goes to a panel, they say ‘in our opinion he hasn’t got it’, even though his medical reports meet the criteria for a diagnosis.
“Without the diagnosis he can’t get the medical support he needs. He needs medication to help him focus, it would make such a difference in his daily life. He is not getting things like speech and language support to help with his social communication.
“I feel helpless. I’m his voice. It’s not like i’m not trying. I am constantly chasing people up. it’s exhausting.”
Amy claims Marley has had at least seven Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT) assessments at Woodview Medical Centre in Widnes.
Last year the service was ordered to come up with an action plan to improve after an investigation by watchdog Halton Homewatch exposed major failings.
The service was savaged by parents who complained the centre lost vital paper work, mixed up medical records and didn’t give families enough information or support
A report found one in five children were forced to wait a year from referral until their first appointment.
Amy said: “You are classed as being under their [Woodview’s] services but he [Marley] does not get any therapy or support.
“A lot of the time they say it”s because you have not got a diagnosis, but they are not giving out the diagnosis.
“The MDT panel say they don’t believe he has either [autism or ADHD] but then don’t say what he does have, so it’s like a Catch 22, when you don’t get any help or support and you just get passed from one person to the other.-“
Amy, who is a full-time carer for her son, leads the Halton campaign group Justice4SEN, and says lots of families are struggling to get a diagnosis for their child.
She said: “He [Marley] is in the same position as a lot of children are. A lot of parents are having to go private to get a diagnosis. That can cost £1,500.
“I am actually considering going into debt myself because my son needs a diagnosis, he is struggling to cope with his issues and he is approaching his 8th Birthday but he can barely read or write.”
On Thursday, SEND activist Amy led a protest in Widnes against central government cuts to special needs funding,
Marches were organised all over the country as part of the SEND National Crisis campaign, which is calling on the government to bridge the estimated £1.2 billion shortfall in high needs funding in England.
Amy claims only a handful of local councillors replied to her email about the march, with just two showing up.
She said: “I saw the march as the perfect opportunity for our political representatives to show their anger and prove their solidarity with the people they represent.
“Also to acknowledge that they understand the suffering of people with disabilities and special needs in Halton.”
She praised the two councillors who came, Pam Wallace and June Roberts, who she said have been “absolutely brilliant”.
Amy said that while she felt “let down” by local services, she believes a lack of funding is the root cause of her battle to get a diagnosis for Marley – and blamed government cuts for a special needs system that is “on its knees”.
She said: “As a parent it’s exhausting and frustrating. You are seeing your child suffer. Marley is deeply unhappy. You just want your child to go to school and learn to read and write.
“Marley is getting no support with his education in school, we are currently applying for an (Education Health Care Plan) EHCP in the hope to get the Education and support he requires.
“He is very intelligent and articulate but due to his inability to read and write it is putting him to a disadvantage than his peers.
“Marley has and is subjected to bullying at his school by children due to his disabilities. He has school anxiety and general is unhappy about going to school. I am desperate to change this as I want my son to have the equal opportunities as his peer’s, to be able to get an education and to be happy going to school.”
A spokesperson from Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, who manage Woodview, said: “Although we are unable to comment on individual cases, we have been delivering significant changes at Woodview and are continuing to work closely with families and our partners in education and other organisations to improve services.”
Halton Council has also been contacted for comment.