AN under-fire service which parents say has failed some of Barnsley’s most vulnerable special needs children will receive a cash boost in order to recruit more staff.

It comes after bosses admitted there was a ‘backlog’ due to growing demand.

Special educational needs and disability (SEND) youngsters, which used to cover four to 16-year-olds, is a category which now includes an age range from birth to 25 following government reforms which were put in place in 2014.

There are about 5,000 children and young adults involved in the Barnsley Council-run SEND system, which works alongside primary, secondary and special schools both in and out of the borough.

Parents who contacted the Chronicle claimed children have been neglected and labelled the service as a ‘disgrace’ - accusing the council of not listening to their voices when forming an education, health and care plan (EHCP), which identifies any requirements a youngster needs.

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A recruitment drive has been launched by the council, which will increase the number of EHCP co-ordinators.

A total of £135,000 has been set aside for the cost of the staff over the next year, whose role is to ‘address the current backlog of EHCPs’, which comes at a time when the service has endured budget cuts of almost 50 per cent since 2014.

Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton welcomed the cash injection, and said: “Improving our SEND structure is one of our key objectives and this money will go towards putting more staff in place.

“We’re still plugging gaps, as are other councils, but we are one of a few who will be able to put something back into where it matters the most.

“Austerity isn’t over, it’s an ongoing issue, but this is a helpful boost and it’s one that’s the best settlement we’ve had in ten years. The improvement areas have also been formed by residents who have voiced their concerns at meetings and councillors’ surgeries, so we’re listening to what they want.”

Service bosses previously admitted that SEND arrangements and outcomes were not good enough in the town, but ‘significant’ investment was promised which saw the council restructure the department before the latest investment was announced last week.

However, campaigner Jonathan Wainwright told the Chronicle ‘abject failings’ have taken place and said the council’s already made its way through almost £800,000 in the last five years without any notable improvements.

Local authorities have a 20-week statutory period to deliver an EHCP - the council used to have a 20 per cent success rate but that’s improved to about 70 per cent, which is just above the national average.

“EHCPs should be a SEND child’s Bible - there’s been pure and utter failings and that’s reflected in parents’ disharmony,” Jonathan added. “We haven’t been made aware that there’s even a backlog, but that shows the lack of relationship between the service and parents.

“There’s never any consultation and the long and short of this is whereabouts the money goes. Just over £792,000 has been spent in previous years and while I welcome any further funding, we have to ask where this money goes.

“We’re not aware of a backlog but we’re told that there is one - why have we got this when so much has been spent already?

“The quality of EHCPs is seriously lacking, it’s dire across the borough, and we believe the required standard has been sacrificed in order to meet the 20-week target.

“There’s been malpractice throughout the system, kids have been neglected and it’s very serious. Parents’ voices have not been heard and those in charge have pressed ahead, doing what they want.”

Barnsley Council said it intends on making improvements to the EHCP process as a result of the cash injection.

The scheme will be discussed at a scrutiny meeting on Tuesday, which will be held at Barnsley Town Hall and involve bosses from the service.

Coun Margaret Bruff, cabinet spokesperson for people (children), said: “The government introduced very significant reforms to the special educational needs system in 2014.

“In addition to changing the way the council and partners, including schools and the NHS, are expected to work together to meet children’s learning needs. The reforms also extended the age range from 16 to 25 years old.

“Although some resource had been allocated to assist councils in implementing these changes, nationally the level of funding allocated has proved insufficient to embed the new ways of working fully.

“In response, the council has previously agreed on additional investment and is leading a partnership approach to make sure the needs of children and young people with SEND are met.

“Part of our SEND plan is to improve the quality and efficiency of EHCP processes. Barnsley Council performs favourably by comparison with national benchmarks for the time it takes to issue an EHCP.

“We recognise that to make sure the plan is always kept up to date, there needs to be an improvement in the way that we process and implement annual reviews. “Therefore, we’ve agreed to prioritise additional, one-off investment to strengthen further and improve these processes.”