Preparing young people with special educational needs and disabilities for a good adult life

03 December 2018

Julie PointerJulie Pointer

The differing legal frameworks governing Children’s and Adults’ Services, combined with the range of services involved in supporting young people in transition, can create challenges for practitioners in providing joined-up support for young people.

The National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) were involved in the onset of the Children and Families Act 2014 whilst this was at its aspirational Green Paper stage, and supported ministers and civil servants to write section eight of the Code of Practice – Preparing for Adulthood from the Earliest Years.

Our experience has shown us (and continues to do so) that the ‘transition’ for young people from their childhood to adulthood has been fraught with challenges. Some of these include:

  • Different thresholds for children’s social care and adult social care – with general experience that thresholds for adults are higher than children’s, although this is not always the case.
  • Different criteria for health support with Children’s Continuing Care (currently being reviewed) and the Adult Continuing Care Healthcare Framework, which can be confusing for families and professionals alike.
  • Planning not happening early enough, often despite local areas knowing about children and young people coming through. ‘They have known about my son since he was two-years-old, how can it be that now at the age of 18 there is no plan in place?’ – Parent.
  • Different working cultures of Children’s and Adults’ Services. A risk adverse approach can lead some Children’s Services to struggle to think about what children need to support them to be as independent as they can be in adult life. There can also be concerns when costly placements (often out of area) are arranged ahead of Adults’ Services becoming financially responsible for the young person once they turn 18.
  • Different legislation that impacts on children, young people, adults and their families. It can be a challenge for practitioners who are steeped in one piece of legislation and assessment framework to understand the link across to the other. This includes the Children and Families Act 2014, the Care Act 2014, and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 – also going through review.

What might some of the solutions be?

When we first started out with the Preparing for Adulthood programme we developed a graphic that showed five key messages and four pathways (outcomes) to support young people to have a good adult life. These pathways and key messages remain just as important today, but I think we have also learnt that an understanding of the shift in values and culture is also required:

Preparing for adulthood

  • A personalised approach – fundamental to both the Children and Families Act and the Care Act is a person-centred approach that puts the child, young person and their family at the centre of any plans for the future. A recent Green Paper – The lives we want to lead – put together by the Local Government Association (LGA) looks at the future of adult social care and having person-centred conversations to ensure everyone in our society receives the support they need to remain in control of their own lives.
  • Develop a shared vision/plan of services together – the local areas we see making the best progress with the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms are those who work together well across all key stakeholders. Those areas where there is a shared vision and a shared understanding that is co-designed with children, young people and their families with all key stakeholders across education, health and care (both children and adults) and with strong leadership have made the most progress in supporting young people to lead good adult lives. After all, those who use services are surely best placed to help design these services to ensure they provide what is needed.
  • Improve post-16 provision – this includes further development of study programmes to include work experience opportunities for young people with SEND and supported internships that lead to paid employment. 
  • Raise aspirations – something that needs to start right at the very beginning when children are first born or newly diagnosed. In the past aspirations for this group of children and young people have been very low. The medical model of disability has meant a focus on a deficit model and what young people ‘can’t do’ rather than what is positive and possible. Our experience of working with families has shown us that if you have different conversations using person-centred tools, almost without exception what they want for their sons and daughters is the same as all parents want. For them to be happy, have a job, have good friends and relationships, to be part of their community, to be as independent as they can possibly be and to enjoy good health. This all starts with raising aspirations from the earliest years.

word about inclusion 

I recently wrote a blog about inclusion that gave the following message; we believe that to ensure children and young people with SEND have good adult lives we have to ensure that they are included from the earliest years. Included in pre-school, school and post-16, as well as being included in their local communities and able to enjoy the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers.

There has been a lot of focus recently on the number of children and young people (particularly with SEND) being excluded from school, with evidence that shows that almost half of these young people have identified SEND, and possibly a significant number more who haven’t yet been identified. However, I believe we should instead be focusing on how we include children and young people in the first place.

At a time when we are seeing reviews around alternative provision, plus a SEND review by the Education Select Committee, we must consider what we need to do to provide an inclusive education and social care system for all children and young people in order to ensure they are prepared well for their adult lives.

About the author

This blog is written by Julie Pointer who is the children and young people lead for the National Team for Inclusion (NDTi). Julie is a qualified social worker who has worked young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to support a good transitionto adult life for the past 20 years. NDTi have had the contract from the Department for Education (DfE) to manage the Preparing for Adulthood programme for the past four years and Julie is the programme lead.




About NDTi

NDTi has been working with communities, Government, and health and social care professionals for 25 years to ensure that people with disabilities of all ages are given choice and control over their own lives. They are a not-for-profit organisation and have programmes that straddle mental health, learning disability, children and young people, aging and older people.

About Preparing for Adulthood

The Preparing for Adulthood programme provides expertise and support to local authorities and their partners to prepare for adulthood from the earliest years. The programme is funded by the Department for Education (DfE) and is part of a consortium called – Delivering Better Outcomes Together (DBOT). This includes, NDTi, the Council for Disabled Children and Mott Macdonald with the National Network of Parent Carer Forums and Contact (formerly Contact a Family).

Related Research in Practice for Adults resources

Transitions – supporting young people in transition to reach positive outcomes in adulthood: Webinar

12-1pm, 23 January 2019, online: view details

The differing legal frameworks governing Children’s and Adults’ Services, combined with the range of services involved in supporting young people in transition, can create challenges for practitioners in providing joined up support for young people.

Drawing on innovative practice from Preparing for Adulthood, funded by the Department for Education, this Webinar examines the challenges and opportunities in supporting young people to develop the skills they need to be successful in adult life.

Aimed at: Frontline staff. 



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