WAITING times for support plans for children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) in St Helens were among the poorest in England for 2018, new figures have revealed.

Children and young people aged 0 to 25 with SEND who require additional support can apply for an assessment with a view to creating an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

Since they were launched by the government in 2014, many areas, including St Helens, has seen huge increases in demand for EHCPs.

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If approved, the local authority has 20 weeks from the date of the assessment to give a final EHCP.

According to new government figures, St Helens Council issued 142 new EHCPs in 2018 – the highest number since EHCPs were introduced – which include some that did not need to be produced within the 20-week timeframe.

Just 9.9 per cent of children with SEND received their EHCP within 20 weeks – the fifth worst total of all local authorities in England and well below the 60 per cent national average.

The figure is by far the lowest on record for the council and a nosedive from 2017’s performance of 69.2 per cent.

That year 107 new EHCPs were issued, which included some that did not need to be produced within the 20-week timeframe.

A St Helens Council spokesman blamed the fall on a “steeper demand” for EHCPs than the national average.

They added that between January 2017 and January 2018, the council saw an 87 per cent increase in the number of requests for EHCP assessments.

“The huge rise in demand for EHCPs is a national issue and St Helens Council like many others has seen a huge rise in workload as a result,” the council spokesman said.

“However, the increase in St Helens is at a higher rate than in other councils with an 87 per cent increase in EHCP requests alone.

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“In 2018 we experienced a steeper demand for EHCPs than the national average with twice as many new EHCPs being produced than other councils, which coupled with the already increasing requirements for EHCPs has impacted on the speed in which we can process the requests.”

The council spokesman said it wanted to “reassure” families it is doing all it can to meet the rising demands for EHCPs, adding that a “robust” plan has been put in place to address the figures.

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“This work includes working directly with families who may be affected through improved oversight and greater investment,” the spokesman said.

“In April 2019 the council approved a £378,000 investment to increase levels of staffing within the SEND team.

“We are committed to ensuring that children with special educational needs and disability receive support and we hope with this additional investment we can improve the timeliness of EHCPs being produced and we have seen improvement this year as a result.”