I was very impressed with the professionalism of the service and literature and extremely grateful for the advice provided. In our case, the [Enquire] Helpline helped to secure a positive outcome from the local authority for our child, together with a commitment to the revision of the authority’s policy.
Chapter 10: Supporting children’s involvement
- Your child’s right to express their views and have them listened to
- Involving your child in decisions about additional support
- Julie’s story
- Your child’s ability to make their views known
- How your child’s views will be noted and considered
- If your child is unable to express their views
- Your child’s right to access their records
- At a glance: Supporting children’s involvement in making decisions
Decisions about whether your child has additional support needs and what kind of support they require will significantly affect their life now and in the future.
Although education law asks you to make decisions on behalf of your child until they reach the age of 16, it is very important that you make every effort to ensure that your child is involved in making those decisions.
Your child is likely to get the most benefit from decisions if they feel comfortable with them. The key to this is that your child knows that what they say will be respected, listened to and, where appropriate, acted on.
Your child’s right to express their views and have them listened to
The Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc Act 2000 states that an education authority must have due regard to the views of children and young people in decisions that affect their education. The law tries to make sure that professionals do not make decisions that affect your child without taking their views into consideration. The Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991 recognises that children have capacity if they have enough understanding of the decisions they are involved in and what they may mean. This generally applies to children aged 12 and over but younger children can be regarded as having capacity in some cases. The professionals involved will decide at individual stages whether your child has capacity. This will be done in partnership with you.
Involving your child in decisions about additional support
In most cases your child will be involved in a fairly informal way, by encouraging your child to take part in developing their personal learning plan or individualised educational programme. They will be involved, during the normal school day, in setting targets and discussing and evaluating their progress.
The ASL Act requires professionals to seek and take account of your child’s views when they are:
- assessing whether your child has additional support needs
- deciding what kind of support your child needs.
The law does allow professionals some discretion (freedom to act) in deciding whether to involve the child in every decision, but this discretion does not apply to co-ordinated support plans. It may be that your child lacks the capacity to express their views or to become involved in decision making or that it is not appropriate or relevant to your child at that time. The decision not to involve a child due to lack of capacity should not be taken lightly. Every effort should be made to find out a child’s views whenever possible. The education authority must seek and take account of your child’s view, or yours if your child is unable to provide a view, when it is:
- assessing whether your child needs a co-ordinated support plan
- preparing a co-ordinated support plan
- reviewing whether your child still needs a co-ordinated support plan
- deciding which agencies may be working with your child after they leave school
- deciding what information to share with agencies that may be working with your child after they leave school.
(picture posed by model)
Julie is 16, has Down’s syndrome and attends her local mainstream school with some auxiliary support. Throughout the planning for her transition from school Julie has maintained that she wants to get a job when she leaves school. Julie’s mum is not sure about this and would rather Julie went to a local college that offers a range of short courses. The guidance teacher arranges a meeting with Julie and her mum to discuss the options available. Julie feels very strongly about at least trying to get a job and wants to be more independent and expresses this at the meeting. Julie’s mum doesn’t think she’ll cope with it and thinks that the college will be more supportive.
The guidance teacher points out to Julie’s mum that as Julie is 16 she can make her own choices and decisions about her education. They all agree that although Julie wants and needs her mum’s advice, she does know her own mind and what she wants. The school offers to set up a meeting with a key worker from Skills Development Scotland who can work with Julie to look at the possibilities for employment or further education. Julie asks her mum if she’ll come with her to the meeting.
Your child’s ability to make their views known
Early learning and childcare centres and schools are being encouraged to build children’s confidence in this area by asking for their views, listening and allowing them to make choices as part of their day-to-day school life.
You can help build your child’s confidence in this area too, by encouraging them to express how they feel and involve them in making decisions. It may also be useful if you and the school discuss your child’s additional support needs with them. You and the school can work with your child to help them understand their needs and how they can manage them.
Expressing views will always be easier for some children than others. However, there are very few who cannot express any view at all. Some may simply need more encouragement and support to do so.
The following examples show how children may be helped to express their views:
- A child whose first language is not English may need an interpreter, not only to help them communicate their views, but to help make sure they fully understand the issues being discussed.
- A child who is hearing impaired may require visual aids or sign language (or both) for the same reason.
- A child whose behaviour means they are unwilling to co-operate may need imaginative approaches such as play, or the use of art.
If your child is aged 16 or over, they have the same right as you to have a supporter or advocate with them, who can help them put their views across or speak on their behalf at discussions or meetings (see the section on supporters and advocates).
If your child is under 16 and they want to have an advocate or supporter with them when they attend any meetings, they can ask if this would be possible. The education authority can agree to your child’s request. It may not agree if it believes it would not be in your child’s best interests.
How your child’s views will be noted and considered
The professionals working with your child will seek your child’s views and record them. If your child has difficulty expressing a view, they will try to help. This may be by recording what your child expressed, whether this was by speaking, writing, signing, making a video, even a facial expression or adopting a certain body posture. They will also record how this was interpreted.
Those professionals involved with your child will then consider what weight to give your child’s views. Although they have to take account of your child’s views, they do not have to accept them or implement everything your child asks for. The decision will be based on:
- your child’s ability to understand the information on which their views are based
- your child’s ability to express their views
- your child’s understanding of other options
- how well those recording and interpreting your child’s views know your child.
The education authority will also look at what is appropriate and realistic for your child when considering their views. The education authority may not be able to fulfil all your child’s wishes and the reasons for this will be explained.
If your child is unable to express their views
The law allows you to speak and act for your child where they are unable to. Your child may be unable to express their view on a particular issue because of mental illness, a developmental disorder, learning disability or physical disability. In legal terms, this is referred to as ‘lacking capacity’.
People should not assume that your child cannot express their view without first checking whether a different method of communication would enable them to do so. Nor should people assume that just because your child is unable to express their view on something, they are also unable to hold a view on it. Every effort should be made to allow your child to be involved in decision-making and to make relevant adjustments.
Your education authority, in discussion with you, will decide whether a child lacks the capacity to do something. You will be able to give an informed view on whether your child can understand a particular matter.
If your child is aged 16 or over and lacks capacity to do something, the law allows you to make a decision on their behalf.
Your child’s right to access their records
Your child has a legal right, under the Data Protection Act 1998, to access his or her personal educational records.
At a glance: Supporting children’s involvement in making decisions
Your child has the right to:
- have their views considered and be involved in decision-making
- (aged 16 or over) have a supporter or advocate present at any discussions or meetings with an education authority when their additional support needs are being discussed (see the section on supporters and advocates).
The education authority must:
- seek and take account of your child’s views when it is assessing your child to find out if they have additional support needs and when it is deciding what that additional support may be, unless it considers it inappropriate to do so
- seek and take account of your child’s views when it is assessing whether your child needs a co-ordinated support plan, preparing a co-ordinated support plan for them or reviewing it
- seek and take account of your child’s views when it is deciding which agencies may be working with your child after they leave school and what information to share with agencies that may be working with your child after they leave school.