Who are vulnerable children and young people under Coronavirus Bill?

23rd March 2020

Government guidance on vulnerable children published today (22 March).  Children w/EHCPs will *not* automatically receive a school place - their eligibility will be subject to risk assessment.  Required reading for SEND professionals.  Charlotte HadfieldCharlotte HadfieldCall: 1999 provides a summary and some thoughts in this article: Who are vulnerable children and young people under Coronavirus Bill.

New guidance has been published by the government today (22 March) setting out which children meet the definition of vulnerable. The big takeaways are that:

1.     Contrary to indications in previous guidance, this guidance suggests that children and young people with EHC Plans will not be automatically eligible for a school or college place. Their eligibility will be subject to a risk assessment by their setting in conjunction with LAs and parents to determine whether their needs can be met at home.

2.     The government is asking all schools and early years settings to remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children wherever possible. This might not be clear on a reading of the vulnerable children guidance, but it is made clear elsewhere.

3.     For children who are awaiting an EHC Plan or the outcome of a tribunal appeal in respect of one, and/or who are on the brink of receiving social care support, settings will have a discretion to carry out a risk assessment and provide support, but will not be required to do so.

4.     The government is likely to introduce legislation to amend the timescales for EHC plan processes, presumably from needs assessments to issue of the plan.

This leaves a lot of discretion in the hands of the child or young person's setting, together with a considerable amount of risk-assessing to be done in a very short period of time. That's without taking into account the work involved for settings in deciding whether or not parents of non-vulnerable children come within the definition of "critical workers". The guidance also introduces a level of additional anxiety for parents of children with EHC plans who are not themselves critical workers and who had felt reassured that their children would continue to have their needs met at school.

A few caveats. Things are changing quite rapidly as legislation and guidance are refined and as the wider picture in terms of public health becomes better understood. I haven't addressed every element of the guidance that's been published. There may be other provisions that didn't make the cut that may be highly relevant to an individual's situation. This guidance has only just been published, and is capable of being amended very easily.