By Cllr Prue Bray
In our 2019 local election manifesto the Lib Dem opposition on Wokingham Borough Council looked at what we thought were the key issues for Children’s Services.
Two key points were:
- Too many expensive out-of-area school placements for children with special educational needs and
- Poor mental health services for young people, with long waiting times for assessment and lack of help for young people in crisis.
What did we propose to do about them?
- Build our own SEND school for children on the autistic spectrum, using council-owned land to reduce the building cost, working with neighbouring authorities who are in the same position;
- Work with Public Health to provide more training on how to identify and support young people who are struggling with ASD, anxiety, depression, stress, ADHD, eating disorders, and emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
We saw the benefits of this approach being improved control over costs and better quality of service for the children.
So this week the Lib Dems are delighted by the announcement of a new SEND school in Winnersh, the product of joint working with Reading Borough Council.
This school is due to open in 2022, and is for 150 pupils with a Social, Emotional and Mental Health and/or an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.
It will be run by Maiden Erlegh Academy Trust.
This is exactly what we were advocating.
The other key issue is still outstanding. Dealing with children’s mental health, including the impact of domestic abuse, is even more important now, due to the covid-19 pandemic.
We suggested additional funds for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, which was rejected in 2019 – but we noticed extra money did go in to the budget for this year.
We have recently set up our own internal working group to look at what has happened with regard to domestic abuse and to come up with new ideas for how to tackle it.
Things are going to get more difficult. Schools’ and the council’s budgets are under pressure.
There is still work to do.
The Lib Dems are pleased to have contributed to the council making progress on Children’s Services and intend to continue pushing the department in the right direction.
In the meantime, we would like to thank all the staff at the council and in the schools in the Borough, who have worked so hard during the pandemic to look after vulnerable children, and to provide education for them remotely or at school in very difficult circumstances.
Cllr Prue Bray is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for children’s service on Wokingham Borough Council
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is our new series of columns. On alternate weeks, we will have a view from a Conservative or Lib Dem councillor and there will be a monthly column from Labour; Independents will also be invited to contribute