Aiming Higher and making sure disabled children’s voice is heard

This week I attended and opened the annual Aiming Higher Conference in Wadebridge. It was great to see so many parents, carers and professionals making the time to attend. Over the years this conference has provided parents and professionals with an opportunity to come together and discuss how we will improve services for disabled children, young people and their families.

Sadly, over the last few years, our discussions have been over-shadowed by the scale of government cuts to public services. To put it in perspective, this is a cut of £45m since 2011 or one-third of the budget cut to the Children’s Services budget at Cornwall Council. This is why it is all the more important to find solutions together.

Genuine partnership working can be difficult to achieve because it requires mutual respect and trust as well as a solution-focused approach to the challenges and problems we are facing. I believe that we are fortunate in Cornwall that there has been a strong tradition of co-production to innovate service design and delivery. Comments from parents at last year’s conference said that they wanted to work in partnership, not just at the margin but to be fully engaged in some of the more difficult areas of service design. The conference is also a time for reflecting and celebrating what has been jointly achieved through partnership working between parents and professionals.

There are some examples of what has worked well and we need to listen to what does not work well. We also need to welcome the national recognition for Cornwall on how improvements can be made through co-production – even in the most challenging context of cuts to local government children’s services.

It is very important to look to the future, and to spend time asking ourselves; what services will be needed for disabled children, young people and their families in Cornwall over the next 5 or 10 years?

I put several questions to those in attendance. These were:

  • Do we have a shared understanding of the need?
  • Do we have an agreed set of outcomes we want to achieve for disabled children in Cornwall?
  • Do we agree what works and what does not work, and;
  • How are we going to balance an increase in demand, with further cuts in funding and an increase in individual expectations?

One thing for sure is we are going to have to do things differently. We will have to explore together those areas that will need to change. And most importantly, we will have to discuss how we can continue to work together to make the best use of limited resources.

This is why the experience, views and ideas from parents and Carters will help shape services for Disabled Children in Cornwall. We must together, truly aim higher for disabled children in Cornwall.

Part of the conference were heard from various keynote speakers. It was good to hear from Amanda Harvey from the Council of Disabled Children giving the national context.

We also heard from an inspirational young speaker called Molly Watt. Molly is registered visually impaired and deaf. She explained the difficulties in her educational journey and how she overcame them. From these experiences she set up her own company, The Molly Watt Trust to help raise awareness of Ushers Syndrome. Molly advises how government and companies make their services more accessible. Please have a look at her website HERE. She had a standing ovation from the audience on completion of her talk.

It is also not often you go to a conference and are handed a plastic water-proof cape. This meant I was going to get wet. However, I was more than willing to get wet and was honoured to be part of the Get Out There Act play (GOT Act). This play highlighted the journey of the group from where it started to where it is now. I have blogged about this fantastic group before. You can see their great work HERE. It was a great performance with a important message, made the audience laugh.

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HRH The Princess Royal visits Get Out There Cornwall

I had the privilege to be invited to the Get Out There (GOT) awards ceremony which took place in Chacewater. The awards to the young people were presented by HRH The Princess Royal who is also the patron of GOT and Sense. Last summer I witnessed first-hand the excellent work GOT do when I spent the afternoon with the group visiting Lands End. GOT website can be found HERE

Get Out There is a Sense service based in Cornwall for young people with little or no sight. Many of the young people in the group have additional needs such as epilepsy, diabetes, autism, hearing impairments, communication difficulties and limited mobility. Despite the complexity of these needs the group provides opportunities for the young people to access a wide range of activities. These include theme park visits, train rides, discos, surfing, ice skating, horse riding, power boating and drama. The ethos of the group is that these young people have as much right to have fun and adventure as other teenagers.

The Princess Royal handed out the awards to the young people who took part in the GOT programme. These awards were for bravery, developed confidence, dedication, kindness to name but a few of the awards. When you attend celebrations like this, and witness the excitement and pleasure of the award winners and you see how proud they are revieving the award;  you know the money spent by Cornwall Council and Sense on this service is worth every penny.

Funding for GOT is a partnership between the charity Sense and Cornwall Council. It shows how two organisations can come together and support these young people. It is a partnership that works.  However, the success of GOT is down to the dedication of Simon Allison and Rachel Peters who are the two project coordinators, and the many volunteers who give up their time freely to support GOT. These people are truly inspiring.  It was a pleasure to celebrate the success of the group at this award ceremony.

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Collin Brewer is found to be in breach of the Code of Conduct

Today, Cornwall Council released the long awaited report investigating one of its Councillors and comments made by this Councillor. The comments made by Councillor Brewer in an interview to Disability News back in May caused outrage, not just locally in Cornwall, but nationally too.

The council received 180 complaints and was duty bound to investigate those complaints. From those complaints received, the Standards Boards found Councillor Brewer guilty of breaches of the Code of Conduct. The report can be found HERE. In censoring Cllr Brewer, the committee ruled that:

  • Councillor Brewer is to make a formal apology “as to the gross offensiveness of his comments and for the significant distress they have caused”.
  • Training will be arranged for Mr Brewer on the Code of Conduct and in dealing with the media.
  • While Mr Brewer remains a member of Cornwall Council he should not be allocated a seat on any of the Council’s Committees that deal or might deal with issues relating to disabled children or other vulnerable members of the community.
  • Mr Brewer should not be nominated as the Council’s representative to any outside bodies that are involved in the provision of services or support to disabled children or other vulnerable members of the community, either as their principal purpose or as part of their routine business.
  • Councillor Brewer will not have access to those parts of council premises from where services to disabled children are directly provided, managed or commissioned.
  • Under the current powers, the Council does not have the powers to suspend, or remove a Councillor from office for serious offences.

    I have also been told that Councillor Brewer has verbally resigned from Office. However, this is not official and cannot be official until Councillor Brewer writes formally to the Monitoring Officer. Once that letter has been received, then Councillor Brewer will no longer hold Office, and a By-election will be held for the vacant seat.