Improving support in an age of cuts – a campaigning success in EnglandPublished Date: 06 Oct 2020
Parent and Chair of the Waveney Deaf Children’s Society, Ann Jillings, celebrates a new deaf resource base opening after several years campaigning. Her experience shows that even when budgets are tight, parent power is hard to ignore. Ann shares her top tips for local campaigning below.
Local authorities in England have a duty to involve parents about decisions in their local area, so how do individuals and local groups ensure this happens when decisions affecting deaf children are made? What did our campaign experience teach us?
Probably the biggest challenge is that campaigning tends to be a marathon not a sprint, so brace yourself for frustratingly slow progress and setbacks. No matter how passionate we are about our children’s futures, there are disheartening times and hurdles that make you ready to give up. Make sure you take the time you need to look after yourself, celebrate all the small steps of progress you have made and never lose sight of the goal. For the days you feel powerless, I came across an expression worth remembering - “water cuts through rock, not because of its power but its persistence”.
Check your council website to find contact information for your local councillors and ask them for help. Write to your MP or attend one of their ‘surgeries’ to ask for support. MPs work outside of local government but having an MP on side can be a huge help. Our local MP has been very keen to act on issues affecting the deaf community and has really helped by raising issues locally and in the House of Commons. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, members of the devolved administrations can also help.
Even if they do not offer support, do not be discouraged, you have still taken positive action by raising awareness.
Rally other parents to join in campaigning - local groups are well placed to do this. One lesson we learnt is that it is very difficult for local authorities to ignore a whole group of parents asking for change; for example, coproduction meetings were arranged in response to a wide group of parents sending in emails. Having other parents on board means tapping into a wider range of views, skills, and resources, not to mention mutual encouragement!
Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) budgets are under huge pressure, and local authorities will need strong evidence of need before committing any funding for provision. We gathered parent views via a questionnaire and parents also took part in a survey conducted by council staff. There are ways of getting information about services for deaf children in your area, such as using Freedom of Information requests and CRIDE data https://www.ndcs.org.uk/cride . Deafness is often seen as a low incidence SEN need, so sometimes councils need reminding about the specific needs of deaf children, parents can do this by taking part in local authority consultations and, in England, sharing views to SEND area inspections, run by OFSTED.
Establish partnerships with other organisations representing families with SEND or deafness in your area e.g. Parent Carer Forums, Deaf clubs or your local Children’s Hearing Services Working Group (CHSWG). Our council works in close coproduction partnership with our local Parent Carer Network so we worked collaboratively with them to ensure that deaf children and their families were represented.
If you feel brave enough, ask a public question at council meetings, these are recorded in the official minutes - literally putting deaf children on the agenda.
Ask to meet decision-makers to discuss the issues affecting deaf children or talk to service managers about your concerns; sharing real life experiences does get attention. To get the best out of meetings:
- Be prepared- have the key points you want to make written down, have copies of any important paperwork and emails with you.
- Be polite - An obvious point, but when our children are affected, it is very easy for emotions to run high. You will achieve more by remaining polite and courteous throughout every meeting, putting points across calmly and firmly.
- Be persistent - Make sure that actions are carried out within agreed timescales. Take note of what actions are agreed and do not be afraid to follow up with emails if things have not been done. You will have to do this quite a bit!
Another big one here. Ask the experts at the National Deaf Children’s Society to support you in your campaigning. We contacted the campaigns team and the local engagement team (England) and were able to draw on their wealth of knowledge about campaigning, policy etc.
Having representatives from the National Deaf Children’s Society at key meetings was extremely helpful, it gave us confidence, added accountability to the meeting. Their advice and guidance helped move things forward in ways we would not have achieved alone.
If you have read downwards, you have probably found the word PARENTS, as that’s where campaign for change really starts, so don’t be afraid to use your voice, you have more power than you think!