CHILDREN with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are facing unacceptable waiting times because of weaknesses in the system.

An independent inspection of SEND services in Durham found there were “significant areas of weakness” in practice in the area.

Watchdogs Ofted and the Care Quality Commission inspected the service between November 27 and December 1 last year.

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Inspectors found “fundamental” weaknesses in the local area’s strategic leadership and governance, with leaders having an inaccurate view of the effectiveness of the local area.

Poor strategic planning was leading to unacceptable long waiting lists, delays to treatment for some conditional and variability of experience for children and young people with SEN and disabilities, they found.

Margaret Whellans, from Durham County Council, issued a statement on behalf of Durham County Council, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and local Clinical Commissioning Groups.

She said: ““We welcome the fact that inspectors saw a lot of strengths in the work of the local area, particularly identifying children’s needs, providing high-quality services for vulnerable young people, preparing care leavers for adulthood and making sure children feel safe and well cared for.

“We also acknowledge that, as a partnership of education, health and social care providers, we could improve the services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

"We recognise many of the areas for development which have been highlighted by the inspectors as in many instances these challenges have already been identified.

“Partners are working together to address these concerns and, with parents, carers and communities, we will ensure improvements are made.”

Alison Lawson, regional director for the National Deaf Children’s Society said the report painted a worrying picture.

She said: “It shows that the leadership of the council have to start thinking more strategically about how to plan for children’s future needs.

“If services are being stretched too thinly, investments need to be made. It’s vital too that the voices and views of parents feed into everything the council do when it comes to children with SEND.”