Significant link between SEN and looked-after children

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Eight out of 10 children living in care also need support for SEN, research has revealed.

The figure, published in a study from UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, is notable because it is much higher than would appear to be the case from official annual statistics.

The UCL research looked at SEN status across school according to social care provision and included data from 475,363 children who started year 1 in 2005.

It found that of the 6,240 children who ever entered the care system during their school years, 83 per cent received provision for SEN at some point between the age of five and 16 years.

Almost a quarter received an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) – or, previously, a statement of SEN.

The researchers found that 65 per cent of the 57,206 children in contact with social care and defined as “in need” but not in care, and 37 per cent of 411,917 children who did not have contact with social care, had provision for SEN at some point.

The finding is significant because in January 2019 the government pubished data showing that only 14.9 per cent of all pupils in England received provision for SEN, with 3.1 per cent of all pupils having an EHCP. However, this is based on figures from just one year of schooling.

Lead author of the research, PhD candidate Matthew Jay, said: “These findings highlight just how important provision for SEN is for many thousands of children. SEN provision affects a large segment of the population – for some groups, the large majority.

“SEN can affect a child’s ability to learn and develop and they may struggle with their reading and writing, making friends, and concentrating. This type of support can be very important for vulnerable children in contact with social care services.”

Senior author of the paper, Ruth Gilbert, added: “We know there are strong links between SEN, the need for social care support and health, but we do not know whether changes in SEN provision in past years have impacted on the NHS or increases in social care referrals.

“Healthcare, SEN provision and social care services focus on a similar population of children and better integration of these services would lead to better support for these children and their families.”

  • The study – Special educational needs, social care and health – was funded by the Medical Research Council and UCL-Birkbeck Doctoral Training Partnership and has been published in Archives of Disease in Childhood.


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