'Nightmare' battle for parents over autistic girl's education

Football practice
Image caption Kaitlin plays football with other autistic children, an environment where her parents say she can enjoy herself with no pressure

Challenging a council decision on special needs education was described as "a nightmare" by parents of a girl with autism and dyslexia.

Chris and Tina Law took Swansea council to tribunal because they wanted Kaitlin to be given more help.

While they won, it cost them £20,000 and they said the emotional impact "drains you dry".

The local authority said it tries to work with parents "to resolve any issues beforehand."

Mrs Law said: "The cost financially, it is a large amount of money and we are very privileged and lucky to be able to spend that amount of money.

"The emotional investment was enormous.

"It really does take all your resources and your resilience to get through it. It just drains you dry."

Following the tribunal, Kaitlin now gets 15 hours of one-to-one help per week.

She also gets special support with literacy and numeracy, speech and language and occupational therapy.

Image caption Chris and Tina Law faced a one-year battle to get what they think is suitable education for their daughter

Mr Law said the year-long process was "draining" and called for it to be simplified.

"I can see why people accept the first (special education) statement that is ever issued to them.

"The whole process is overbearing and can be terrifyingly worrying for some people.

"To go through it all that is a nightmare."

Despite this, he believes it is still the best outcome for Kaitlin "that will help her develop and be the person that we always knew she could be".

A majority of parents who challenge a local authority decision at the Special Education Needs Tribunal Wales (SENTW) are successful.

Image caption Lack of funding has been blamed for a lack of adequate support for children such as Kaitlin

The most recent data shows that in 2016-17 just 5% of appeals were dismissed.

The number of appeals increased year on year from 127 to 170.

But experts believe few parents take their case as far as a tribunal because of the complexity and stress of the process.

Specialist education lawyer Ed Duff believes the reason councils lose so many tribunals is because of a lack of cash.

He said: "I refuse to believe any local authority anywhere in Wales would be wilfully refusing to provide support that pupils need or wilfully failing to properly asses pupils' needs.

"It has to be that the budget line just isn't there to be able to properly comply with the duties they're currently under."

About 13,000 pupils in Wales have a Special Educational Needs (SEN) statement, with councils spending £381m on their education in 2018-19.

The Additional Learning Needs Act is aimed at changing the system from next year.

A Welsh Government spokesman said it will include "a renewed focus" on resolving instances where disagreements between parents and local authorities occur - which officials hope will reduce the number of appeals made at tribunal level.

He added: "We are also investing £20m to support the skills development of the education workforce to ensure learners' needs are catered for in preparation for the new Additional Learning Needs system."

Swansea council said it recognised going to a tribunal can be a stressful experience for parents.

A spokesman added: "We try to work with them to resolve any issues beforehand."

The Association of Directors of Education in Wales said, in the vast majority of cases, parents and their children "are completely satisfied" with the process and provision agreed.

Wales Live is on BBC One Wales at 22:35 on Wednesday

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