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We always try to get the best outcome for the child: Michael’s story

Photo: Volunteer Michael sits at his desk, holding a card given to him by a family he supported.

Michael volunteers as a pro bono legal advisor through a partnership between our Advice and Guidance team and the law firm Fieldfisher.

How have you supported the National Deaf Children’s Society?

I support school placement appeals. When a child has an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP), the local authority should set out which school they’ll go to and agree this with the family. If a family feels that a school can't meet their child's needs, they can appeal. The appeals process is supposed to be something that anybody can follow, but it can be complex and overwhelming.

I've worked on four cases over the last few years. We’re given the EHCP and all the supporting documents including medical, audiology and Teacher of the Deaf assessments. We liaise with the local authority and if the case gets to the final hearing stage, we can help by acting as the parent’s representative in the Tribunal.

A lot of the time we’re able to resolve cases before it gets to the Tribunal hearing. A significant part of our support is helping the family to understand the decision. We provide different support for different cases, but we always try to get the best outcome for the child.

Why did you get involved?

At Fieldfisher, we have a great scheme to support the National Deaf Children’s Society which began in 2014. Two of my colleagues were heavily involved in it, and although I wanted to, I wasn’t sure if I would have time. But with a little bit of nagging, I got involved and it went from there!

What do you enjoy about volunteering in this role?

Firstly, it's got a tangible result. In corporate law, some of the things we do are quite abstract, but here you have somebody that will be directly and personally impacted by our support, and when it goes well, it’s fantastic.

The gratitude I get for this sort of work is incomparable to doing a contract for a corporate client. I got a card from one of the families I support, and I keep it on my desk. Also, it adds extra variety to the job and makes it different. I don't like to do the same thing again and again!

What do you think you’ve gained?

I've personally gained a lot out of it. It's a nice add-on to the day job as I can use the skills I've built in a different context, gain confidence, and meet people across the firm; usually I work with one or two colleagues on the same case. And for more junior colleagues, it's a great thing to do. When I first started, I ended up in a Tribunal, by myself in front of a Tribunal judge and it was a great experience. It stretches you – you have to think on your feet.

How has it been working with our staff?

They're fantastic. They're real experts, lovely people – getting that support is great. The staff there have the in-depth knowledge about deafness and the EHCP process. That support is crucial, particularly if you’re working on a case for the first time.

What difference does your support make to deaf children and their families?

It can be life changing. We supported two sisters who were really unhappy at school. The elder one was working around the clock just to keep up at secondary school and was not able to have a social life. And you know at 13 or 14, that's a hugely important time and can have a lasting effect. We were also helping her younger sister who was about to move to the same school.

Getting a successful outcome can make all the difference to a young person's development and their future life chances. Spending time with the families and hearing about the barriers they face helped me to appreciate the difference this support can make.