What a busy month it has been since the launch of The Local Offer!
As 
anyone delivering a new service will know, the build up to launch date is fraught with tension and apprehension, tempered with the generous good spirit and encouragement of those supporting in the side-lines.

Here at The Local Offer, spirits have been buoyed & dashed in equal measure as technical glitches & admin tasks have dominated the agenda. Now it is down to the business of expanding the network, building a good reputation and delivering a service!
In these early days, The Local Offer is a rather homely and pesonal social enterprise, with regular communications with all providers, either by phone, email, social media or in person. The thoughts and aspirations of service providers are shaping the direction of service delivery and influencing features of development, and that is very much in line with its core belief - this enterprise cannot exist in a vacuum but is very much driven by the needs of its customer base.

Whilst it is the providers of education, health and social care services whose presence forms the economic basis for this enterprise, it is the interplay between the different audience groups that will determine its long term success - parents and carers, commissioners and schools and other services. To that end, it has been good to be out and about amongst parents, service providers and local authority representatives this past few weeks, after a period of confinement to office prior to launch. 

I want to comment on two brilliant conferences where that interplay between parents, professionals and providers has been exemplary. 

Practical Guidance on the Challenges of Autism, by the Hesley Group on 20th May in Warwickshire &
The Service Children Support Network Annual Conference on 21st May in Buckinghamshire.

Hesley Group - Practical Guidance on the Challenges of Autism, 20th May 2014

As part of their philanthropic work, Hesley Group are running a series of free conferences for parents and professionals. I was fortunate to attend their conference on the Challenges of Autism at Dunchurch Park in Rugby. Professor Barry Carpenter was chair for the day and ran a brilliant afternoon workshop on Insights into Families' Needs. Presentations included Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) for Families by Angela Stanton-Greenwood, Finding the Right Place for Nick - A Parent's View and Letters to the Home Front by John Clements. I gained immensely from the day, in terms of professional knowledge, new connections and a reminder of why I work in special educational needs. Heart-breaking stories of courage and despair, relentless challenge, emotional stress and fatigue dominated discussions - and that was just through the coffee breaks! 

Far too many parents of children with complex needs, even through this time of reform, struggle on for protracted periods of time often over many years, before meeting that one person who understands their plight, and works hard to make a difference and bring about change. For some parents, that turning point comes only after a crisis - the involvement of the police, enforced hospitalisation, sectioning or physical and emotional meltdown. The need for practical help and support, for addressing the needs of the family and not just parents, came through as a recurring theme in presentations. 

As a final note on the Hesley Conference, I applaud Professor Barry Carpenter's work on promoting a Family Charter for all schools to adapt, develop and incorporate into their practices on behalf of children and young people with SEND. 

Service Children Support Network Annual Conference, 21st May 2014 

Joy O'Neill's Service Children Support Network Annual Conference brought a focus on the significance of research and practice on behalf of Service Children and their families. Matt Fossey updated delegates on current and prior UK and US research into the impact of Service life on the adolescent child and family. James Slattery gave a highly engaging talk on the Widening Participation Project run by the University of Oxford and spoke of the importance of extra-curricula activity on emotional well-being, achievement and raising aspirations (his slide on My Story was an excellent working example of a One Page Profile!)

Emily Kirov, Referral Agent for Chicks, gave perhaps the most emotionally-charged presentation of the day describing the work of Chicks, an enterprise that provides free respite breaks and holidays for children and young people, 8 - 16 years, who face economic hardship, disadvantage or other challenges in life and may not otherwise experience a holiday. Three key issues are addressed - emotional well-being, stability and security and confidence and peer-relationships. The video of children talking about their favourite part of their holiday with Chicks was very moving! 

To find out more, follow the link - http://www.chicks.org.uk/

The importance of positive memory creation for young children with SEN, disability or disadvantage resonates and is at the heart of The Local Offer. What are services for children and young people about if they do not have at their core a desire to develop relationships, enrich lives and create opportunities for positive memories of transformative experiences? 

The Local Offer Service Development

Back to the business of this social enterprise. The Local Offer is in discussions with over 40 providers currently, with interest shown from significantly more providers, some of whom are in various states of transition as they progress towards implementing the SEND reforms for September 2014. I hope to report soon on new providers on board so that the SEND search database can extend its reach - it is early days yet, but do keep tuning in for updates.

In planning stage at present are more Commissiong & Contracting SEND services events during the Autumn, with providers already in discussion to roll out these events in London, South West, West Midlands and North East. Dates and venues and host providers will be announced by the end of June. Information on what it means to be host a Meet the Commissioner event will be added to the site shortly.

As the service develops and extends its network, Regional Focus Groups will be established for providers to meet up and discuss key issues and concerns relating to the SEND reforms, The Local Offer and the role they play in service provision. More news soon.

For now, thank you again to those providers who have come on board from the launch, and for all the support and best wishes of a range of services and professionals. Your support is much appreciated. I look forward to meeting some of you in the near future.

With kind regards