A MUM-of-two has worked for years to make positive changes for young people with disabilities in Dorset.
And she is now welcoming government reforms, due in September, which will overhaul how services in the county are delivered to children with special needs and their families.
Weymouth resident Lesley Mellor set up the Dorset Parent Carer Council (DPCC) after moving to the county and realising she didn’t know what services were available for her two sons, who both have special educational needs.
The DPCC, which has hundreds of members, is run by parents for parents and their families.
It is made up of the parents of children who have a variety of special needs from complex medical conditions to challenging behaviours to learning or physical difficulties and more.
Government reforms are set to change the current system and Lesley told the Dorset Echo that changes will put the child’s needs first.
The Children and Families Bill received Royal Assent last month and will come into effect from September 2014.
Lesley added: “Government reforms for children with Special Educational Needs and children who are disabled will significantly change the way the Dorset Parent Carer Council works in Dorset.
“Reforms will introduce new models and processes, with a much stronger emphasis on placing children and families at the heart of processes and involving them in planning and decision making. There will also be increased joint working between organisations.”
Lesley added: “We are starting to prepare for this in Dorset.”
The DPCC aims to improve the lives and opportunities for families and children and young people who are disabled in Dorset.
Lesley said: “We are doing this by being a voice to inform all agencies and services about the needs of disabled children and their families in Dorset.”
Not only does she volunteer most of her time to the cause, Lesley meets regularly with Dorset County Council’s children’s services, health experts and many other organisations.
The DPCC also has close links to the five special schools in Dorset.
Lesley said she couldn’t have done it without Weymouth mum Elaine Okopski, who helps her to run the DPCC with four other committee members.
Their work includes running awareness events, an informative newsletter and website and much more. Lesley said her sons Robert and Christopher, now aged 20 and 27, sparked her achievements in the county.
She said: “We lived in Yorkshire but Robert loved the sea so we moved to Dorset. It is a great county in terms of support for disabled children but the problem was that there wasn’t a group or main point of contact so people didn’t know what was available and where to go. There was no pathway – so I created one.”
Her son Christopher now volunteers as a health champion and works in the community to help others.
The Dorset Parent Carer Council bids for £10,000 a year of funding from central government.
Major changes in line for education
The Department for Education is proposing a radical shake-up of how children with special educational needs (SEN) and their families are supported.
The reforms will replace SEN statements and post-16 learning disability assessments within a single ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’. It is hoped this will give a greater voice to the young person about their needs.
Currently people with a statement of special educational need have an annual review. In Dorset, an increasing number of schools are using ‘person-centred planning’ which places the child at the centre of all the work.
The reforms will give parents and young people the option of a personal budget to buy specialist support. Every local authority will have to publish information about services expected to be available in their area for children and young people from birth to 25 with SEN needs.
There will be changes around the terminology for young people over 16. Currently, they are described as having ‘learning difficulties and disabilities’ and are subject to a different framework.
However, under the reforms they will be regarded as having ‘special educational needs’ in the same way they would if they were under 16.
If a young person is already on a programme called ‘School Action’ or ‘School Action Plus’ – this will be combined into a single category called SEN support.
New hut opened on beach
A NEW beach hut has been unveiled for children with disabilities and special needs on Weymouth Beach.
Parents, carers and teachers united to celebrate the grand opening of the fourth facility of its kind, thanks to the Dorset Parent Carer Council (DPCC).
It will be available for hire for DPCC members between March and October for £7 a day.
It is the brainchild of council chairman Lesley Mellor and Elaine Okopski who have both volunteered to make positive changes for young people with disabilities for many years.
The beach hut, which is next to the Pier Bandstand, includes a changing table, furniture and a wheelchair slope for users – as well as being fitted with solar panels.
Other DPCC beach huts are in place at Friars Cliff, Christchurch, Knoll Beach, Studland and Lyme Regis.
The beach hut project in Dorset has so far cost more than £40,000, with DPCC bidding for government funding each year to keep running.
To book the beach hut or find out more about the Dorset Parent Carer Council email or call 07827 793244.