Education in early years
How do I know if my child has SEND?
All children grow and develop at different rates, and so it can be hard to know if they have special educational needs in their earliest years, or what the extent of these needs might be. If you have concerns about your child, we would encourage you in the first instance to speak to those who know them well, such as their childminder, nursery staff, doctor or health visitor, to see if they share your concerns.
SENDIASS in Suffolk have produced a helpful video for parents to outline the kinds of support that they can expect early years providers to put in place for children with SEND.
All Ofsted registered childcare settings, such as nurseries, pre-schools and nursery classes, must make arrangements to support children with SEN and make information about this available to parents. They should identify a member of staff, such as the Special Educational Needs Coordinator or SENCO, to be responsible for SEND, to advise colleagues and ensure that parents are actively involved in decisions. Childminders are ‘encouraged’ to identify someone to act as the SENCO, perhaps shared with others registered with the same agency. All early years settings, which offer free childcare for two, three and four year olds must follow the SEND Code of Practice.
Nurseries and other childcare providers should regularly assess your child’s progress, keeping you informed. You should be given a written summary of your child’s progress when they are between two and three years old, as part of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. Staff should respond quickly to any emerging difficulties by trying new approaches, consulting you and developing a plan. This should set out your child’s strengths, any areas of concern, and explain what support they will offer. The childcare setting should agree with you when to review the plan to see how well it is working.
The exact nature of the support put in place will depend on your child’s particular needs, but may include things like visual timetables, sensory regulation activities, a quiet place to sit or the use of augmented communication systems such as Makaton or PECS. Where a child has support from Health services such as Occupational Health, specialised equipment may be able to be provided to support children to take part in activities. It is also important to note that the child’s needs are the most important thing, not whether or not they have a formal diagnosis - the lack of a formal diagnosis should not be a barrier to effective support being put in place.
If your child is three or four years old, receives free childcare, and is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, you may be able to apply for your childcare provider to receive funding through the Disability Access Fund. This is to help them make reasonable adjustments to improve your child’s access to early education.
If you think your child may need an EHC Needs Assessment (EHCNA), we encourage you to talk to their health or education workers to review what is working and what else might be needed.
In some cases but not all, an EHCNA may lead to the issuing of an EHC Plan or EHCP. Decisions about this are made by a Panel which includes representatives from Early Years, Education, Health and Social Care. An EHC Plan is usually required for entry to a special school once a child reaches statutory school age. You can read more about EHC Needs Assessments and Plans here.
Some 2, 3 and 4 year olds with SEND attend ‘dual placements’ in their earliest years; splitting their time between a special school assessment nursery and another local early education provider.
Requests for these types of places are considered once a year by Suffolk County Council's Inclusion Service. Please speak to the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) at your childcare provider or ring Customer First on 0800 917 1109 if you think your child should be considered for a dual placement.
- Coram have produced a guide to childcare for children with SEND.
- The Family Information Service have also provided a “What to consider when supporting your child’s start at a childcare setting” leaflet. They also publish general advice on choosing childcare here.
- Suffolk SENDIASS have some useful guidance on things that you may find helpful when choosing a school for your child.
- Contact have a section dedicated to advice for families of younger children with SEND, including advice on common concerns, diagnosis pathways and finding support.
- Disability Living Allowance may help with the extra cost of looking after children under 16 with certain disabilities.
- Family Hubs exist to provide support and advice to parents and carers across Suffolk on a range of topics including parenting, child development and health.
- The Family Information Service can help you with finding childcare, holiday schemes or early education settings in your area.
- Home-Start’s remit is for preschool age children, and they run various drop in groups for parents of children with additional needs. They also have a “SEND Navigator” whose jobs is to support families of children with SEND navigate the system. The SEND navigator for Suffolk is Tracy Clark.
- Health Visitors work alongside a range of professionals including early years settings, GPs and midwives and others to provide support for the health and wellbeing of the whole family.
- Activities Unlimited: There are a range of clubs, groups and other short breaks and leisure activities available for children with SEND in Suffolk.
- Neurodevelopmental Disorder (NDD) Pathway (East & West Suffolk): The Neurodevelopmental Disorder (NDD) Pathway (East & West Suffolk) aims to provide a clear and structured approach to support families who require assistance with supporting a child or young person with neurodevelopmental conditions.
- Health visiting team: Health Visitors are qualified nurses or midwives with specialist community public health training and can offer support, advice and information to families with children aged 0 to 5 years.
- Common Assessment Framework (CAF): The CAF aims to provide a simple process for a broad assessment of children's needs and strengths, taking account of the roles of parents/carers and environmental factors on their development.
- Suffolk SENDIASS: Suffolk SENDIASS (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Service) is a confidential and impartial information, advice and support service on issues related to Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND).
- Beans: The Beans team provides wrap around, individualised support for children and young people aged 0-25 who are suspected as neurodivergent within East and West Suffolk.