Petition started after hundreds of families are affected, writes Russell Hargrave
Campaigners say families across Waltham Forest have endured “horrendous” uncertainty as the council looks to reform travel support for vulnerable children.
The new system, which was rolled-out across the borough at the beginning of this year, was intended to update the rules for children with special educational needs or disabilities who need extra help getting to and from school.
The process has sparked confusion and anger, however, after support was removed or reduced for hundreds of families, only to be reinstated when the local authority reviewed its decisions.
Data from Waltham Forest Council shows that a total of 204 families managed to secure help for their children only after asking the authority to look again at the offer they had received. Help was restored to another four families after being heard by a full appeals committee, with further cases still waiting for an appeal hearing.
A letter seen by the Echo shows that at least 470 local families applied at the beginning of this year for additional school transport support.
Walthamstow resident Melanie Draper told the Echo that her eight-year-old daughter, who has autism, has used a bus under the assisted transport scheme for the last five years.
The bus is “a very important part of her day,” explained Melanie. “She gets to see her friends and she knows her seat. It is independence for her.”
When the family applied for transport support this year, though, they were told that their daughter no longer qualified. They were instead offered help with the cost of driving their daughter to school.
She asked the council to review its decision, and after three weeks officials agreed that her daughter was eligible for her old bus place after all.
The weeks of uncertainty, Melanie said, were “horrendous, absolutely horrendous”. She added: “It was the last thing I was thinking about before I went to sleep, and the first thing I was thinking about in the morning.”
These developments come 18 months after a council consultation suggested some pupils receiving additional help might be able to use mainstream public transport instead.
In 2016 the council promised to assess the impact on residents before introducing any changes. The total cost of assisted transport in the borough was estimated at the time as £3million.
Potential cuts to assisted transport “has brought people together,” according to Claire Bithell, a local mum who helped start the Waltham Forest Special Education Crisis campaign group. An online petition, which calls on the council to start an “urgent review” of its policies on assisted transport, now has over 750 signatures.
Claire told the Echo: “We know children are suffering as a result of the cuts. Families are suffering as a result of the cuts.
“If I have one message for the council, it is that we are not going to allow cuts to go through without a fight. Our children are depending on us.”
Waltham Forest Council was approached by the Echo but declined to comment, citing local election purdah restrictions.
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