Bad faith

This seems like a seasonally appropriate time to write on this topic, when Christians are thinking about peace and goodwill to all.

One of the things I often come across are parents who have concluded that their LA is acting in bad faith, out of malice. This does happen, but nowhere near as often as people have decided it does, as they misinterpret actions as being malicious when they’re in reality done out of ignorance or for some other motive.

The reasons it’s important to consider what is really going on carefully are these:

1. SEN is (when you’re looking at an EHCP) a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to “get on” with your LA case officer, but you are going to have to work with and around your LA until your child is an adult (and in some cases on an ongoing basis as they transfer into adult social care provision). A victory achieved at great emotional cost to yourself is of no better value than one achieved at lesser cost.

2. Acting on anger can lead to taking actions that aren’t the right thing to do in the longer term. Anger is a feeling, that’s as real as any other feeling and one that often needs an outlet – sport, talking to someone and so on. Actions based on anger aren’t often the ones that serve children best in the longer term. Anger can become a hinderance to taking effective action, particularly when it results in intransigence.

3. Spending lots of time being angry over a long period of time isn’t usually very good for our bodies. It’s a marathon, with periods of extra effort, not a sprint.

4. Understanding the likely motivations of LAs helps in planning how to respond to them. You can still conclude they’re wrong to act on those motivations, whether morally, or in many cases, legally. Generally, nobody likes to think of themselves as being the “bad guy” so people put their own actions into the contexts that make them feel like they’re doing a good thing. For LA officers, this is usually the knowledge that their education budget is fixed and that they have to educate a particular number of children within that budget. “Protecting” the budget for other, maybe more needy, children is a factor that makes LAs less likely to agree to more expensive placements outside of the Tribunal. It’s easier if you’re an LA to say to your Council Tax payers “The Tribunal made us” rather than “we agreed it was necessary to spend £200000 on this child’s education”. The obvious knowledge that most parents of children with SEN are themselves Council Tax payers seems to be ignored. This is one of the reasons why arguments put to an LA that say “my choice of school and accompanying provision is cheaper than your proposals” are quite often successful – there’s a saving to the public purse.

5.Also remember most LA staff are dependent for their own security on having a job and an income each month. They are rarely well paid and may very well be people who fall into the category of “just about managing” in their personal lives. It’s very difficult for someone in that position to go very far outside what their employere has asked them to do, even when they are personally sympathetic to your case.

6. As Government spending was cut from 2010 onwards, lots of LAs took decisions that resulted in them losing their experienced SEN staff. Prior to that point, most LAs had senior case officers, who acted as representatives in many cases before the Tribunal, who had a reasonable understanding of the legal requirements. This meant they would be able to negotiate a case sensibly. With these people retiring and moving on elsewhere, many Children’s Services departments have ended up with inexperienced staff who are trained in their own internal policies to the exclusion of the legal requirements. This means that quite often LA officers are acting out of ignorance – this is not the fault of the individual, but of the LA corporately in not training its staff properly. This is something that can properly be made the subject of a complaint.

7. In cases where an LA is behaving maliciously, you stand a better chance of resisting them when you can react to them firmly, but reasonably and calmly.