Children with Special Educational Needs and the Family Court system

22 Oct 2019

Hannah Richardson, BBC News Education Reporter, has written an article highlighting the struggles that families face trying to find support for their children with special educational needs.  She observes that, "Families are often forced to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system which breeds conflict and despair as parents try to navigate a postcode lottery of provision”.  As a family lawyer this observation resonates with me.
I have represented numerous parents whose family have been torn apart as they have fought to get the support and care their child needs.  Hannah Richardson observes that "Parents are forced to become protesters, lawyers and bureaucrats to stand any sort of chance of getting the support their child is legally entitled to."  As a family lawyer I have seen the devastating effects that such pressures have had upon an otherwise strong marital union.  As the parents take on the role of not only carer but also protestor and advocate for their child, the marriage is neglected resulting in it either failing or its dynamic changing beyond recognition.  The family unit that was meant to support and protect their vulnerable child is torn apart.
Sadly I have often observed, at times, a total lack of understanding in the Family Courts of the genuine challenges faced by primary carers of children with special needs.  I have seen CAFCASS officers recommend that an autistic child, whose whole world it reliant upon routine and consistency, be, quite literally, dragged out of their home kicking and screaming to have contact with their other parent.  I have been before Judges who have demanded that the primary carer of a child with special needs secure full time work despite the fact that the child needs that parent at home with them to ensure that their very basic needs are met.
Of course the stance adopted by the Family Court is dependant upon the Judge or CAFCASS officer assigned to the case but children with special needs deserve better than pot luck with the Judge or CAFCASS officer who happens to manage their case.  Too often the primary carer of the child is dismissed as exaggerating their child’s symptoms, with little sympathy or understanding of the daily challenges both the child and primary carer face.
To stand the best chance of the Family Court really listening to a child’s needs and making the right Orders for them it is often essential to secure legal representation.  An experienced family lawyer will help the parent navigate the family law legal system to secure the best possible outcome for the whole family.  A sensitive and skilled family lawyer will work hard not only to secure a result that is right for the child but will also work hard to try to assist separated parents in moving on to a place where they can co-parent effectively and without the intervention of the Court.  Such an outcome puts not only the needs of the family, but, most importantly, the needs of the child first.  
At DMH Stallard we are experienced in representing parents of children with special needs and securing the best result for the family.  Navigating your way through the family law legal system can be intimidating and stressful but with the right legal support and clear legal advice this can alleviate the strain and pressure placed on the primary carer to ensure they are freed up to focus on their child.

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