Practice example – Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent has a population of 249,008 people (2011 Census). Information currently available suggests that the population has become younger in both absolute and relative terms over the past 10 years (Stoke City Council). There has been a 9.6 per cent increase in the number of children aged 0–9; a 7.2 per cent increase in young adults aged 15–24; and a 0.8 per cent decrease in the population aged 65 and over.

Building relationships

Stoke-on-Trent is building on its Aiming High programme using a link with the special educational needs coordinator in each high school/academy. There is a regular meeting of all the coordinators, which provides a good conduit for information exchange and discussion. There are also strong links with senior managers across the authority with lead responsibility for inclusion/school achievement.

To support the wider Aiming High programme, Stoke also runs an enhanced level of Aiming High that supports children and young people and their families with more complex needs where they are on the edge of meeting the social care threshold and are likely to need longer-term support into adulthood. This enhanced service accepts cases through a short breaks resource allocation meeting where professionals from statutory and non-statutory/voluntary and community services meet to discuss those who may meet the enhanced criteria. Information on children and young people who receive enhanced Aiming High is shared with the adult social care manager as part of the early identification process.

Adult social care staff now have a regular planned joint meeting with the child disabilities social care team to review and work together on cases where young people are aged over 14.

Stoke’s transition forum meets every month with partners from education, post-16 specialist learning providers, health and children and adult social care services to discuss individual cases. This is an important regular network where solutions are discussed and agreed on a case-by-case basis. If a decision cannot be reached easily, it is forwarded to senior managers as well as the special educational needs and disabilities reform board where partners are involved. The board is the strategic overarching partnership where trends, emerging issues and future actions are agreed upon.

The new special educational needs and disabilities reforms and the weekly Education, Health and Care (EHC) panel provide an opportunity for agencies to work openly together and to assess individual cases via the planning and assessment process.

Health services are engaged and attend the special educational needs and disabilities reform board and the transition forum. Many attend the monthly short breaks resource allocation meeting. Not everyone attends every time but there are sufficient links and positive relationships so that any specific conversation can take place outside any meeting.

Together with its physical health services, Stoke’s education and children’s social care staff are planning together to create a single new centre for services where disabled children and their families can be co-located under one roof. The purpose of this building – now named Hazel Trees – is to ensure that services covering assessment, support, intervention, information and advice are housed together in a single building, making it easier for families, children, young people and young adults to source the advice and support they need. This joint planning for the new centre, together with the special educational needs and disabilities reforms, have actively encouraged health services to become more involved.

Local parent forum

The Aiming High Together parent forum is run for and by parents of disabled children, young people and young adults. There is a small amount of funding available to this forum from a national government source. The local authority commissions small, specific pieces of work such as organising workshops on particular topics, along with wider engagement work. The forum also acts as a conduit to inform commissioning processes. The forum supports the Aiming High programme in terms of co-production, but has extended its involvement into the special educational needs and disabilities reforms, including the ‘local offer’ and the ‘whole-life disability approach’ that have been adopted throughout the authority.

The forum links to a community interest company and meets monthly with parents, who set the agenda. Invitations are extended to children’s social care, adult social care and others as the need arises. The forum has planned and hosted a workshop for families and professionals on developing a whole-life disability approach, which focused on what needs to improve and on creating an agenda for change/action plans with professionals.

Monthly short breaks resource allocation meeting

The Aiming High programme delivers short breaks – activities and support – to children and young people at the lower levels of social care thresholds up to the age of 20. Approximately 400 children and young people access short breaks under Aiming High or Aiming High Enhanced. Many of these do not have a social worker, hence this programme helps to fulfil Stoke’s early identification and support approach to families.

The monthly allocation meeting is where a range of providers, including health/specialist health, are present. All providers work through various cases where more help is needed, and advice and support are given with agreed next steps and a review process to monitor progress. The number of cases reviewed monthly by this meeting varies and can be between 12 and 20. Actions are logged and followed up at the next meeting.

Monthly transition forum

The transition forum, where key partners –  such as local voluntary care services, health and further education and other learning providers – come together is well attended and provides a useful information-sharing network on young people as they approach the age of 17. As a result of discussions at the forum, in most cases, a referral is made or agreed in collaboration with the child social worker. Other referrals are made to post-16 learning providers or to a continuing health care panel for financial consideration.

Engaging with black and minority ethnic families

Stoke’s universal/early identification and support services (via local resources including children’s centres, housing teams, nurseries, schools, leisure services, etc) use the early help assessment process to identify additional needs and refer into higher-level services if this is needed. A proportion of referrals into Aiming High are made from these universal settings.