Councillors apologise for ‘offensive and ignorant’ comments about special needs children - The Rugby Observer

Councillors apologise for ‘offensive and ignorant’ comments about special needs children

Rugby Editorial 7th Feb, 2024 Updated: 8th Feb, 2024   0

THE COUNCILLORS accused of ‘offensive and ignorant’ comments about children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) have apologised following a backlash.

Acknowledging the comments caused ‘significant offence, distress and upset’ to families in the SEND community, Warwickshire County Council has distanced itself from the three Conservative councillors’ remarks, and says an investigation is underway.

At the Warwickshire County Council (WCC) Children’s and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Meeting last month, Coun Brian Hammersley questioned the increase in SEND diagnoses by asking if there was “something in the water”, and suggested a return to the days of institutionalisation in the 60s and 70s.

Coun Jeff Morgan was sceptical about accepting children had ADHD, suggesting they were “just really badly behaved and need some form of strict correction”.

And Coun Clare Golby spoke about websites where “families are swapping tips on how to get their children diagnosed,” adding: “What comes down to parenting, and what comes down to SEND issues?”

In an apology issued on Wednesday (February 7), Coun Hammersley said: “I regret my clumsiness and lack of care in choosing my words and can see the upset and offence they caused. I am terribly sorry and will be more thoughtful with my questions and words in future. I can see that I have some learning to do.”

Coun Morgan said: “It was never my intention to offend, and I regret the words I used to make a point about demand and need in the SEND area.”

Coun Golby said: “I accept that the words I used at the meeting were open to interpretation. I have spent many years working hard to support children and families in the SEND community and it was never my intention to offend. I apologise for any offence caused.”

Council Leader Coun Izzi Seccombe said: “Those views and the language used are not representative of this Council, its wider councillors and staff or our commitment to children and young people. I am so sorry for the distress this situation has caused.”

WCC Chief Executive Monica Fogarty added: “The Council is taking this extremely seriously. An investigation is underway, and we need to allow time for that to be completed.

“So much good work has been done over recent years in collaboration with the SEND community and we remain determined to continue to improve life opportunities for children and young people and deliver on our commitment to support children with SEND to thrive.”

She said that the investigation was being prioritised, and the findings would be communicated as soon as it is complete.

A spokesperson for SEND Crisis Warwickshire (SCW) said the councillors’ comments were ‘discriminatory and stigmatising’.

They added: “None of us who are caring for and raising a disabled child or child with additional care, support or learning needs ‘want’ or ‘choose’ this life. None of us are doing it for kicks, specialist treatment, attention or a golden ticket.”

They said government cuts, austerity measures and the cost-of-living crisis had left Local Authorities ‘hamstrung’ in addressing SEND needs.

They added: “We seek assurance such derogatory language about Warwickshire’s children and families will not be heard in the Council Chamber again.

“We strongly recommend councillors access equality training to ensure they are at the very least conversant in disability, diversity and child and family rights, and statutory duties incumbent on local and national government.”

A spokesperson for WCC’s Labour Group said: “We understand why parents and carers are questioning the trust they put in councillors to act wisely on behalf of their children, if this is the level of understanding they display.

“Some children need specialist provision, which can only be found in specialist settings. It’s true that some types of SEND are identified more often now, and there are complex reasons for this.

“This should make us more determined to build up relationships between families, schools and the council, not make disparaging remarks which make working together even more difficult.”

Rugby Borough Councillor John Slinger, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Rugby, said: “I condemn unreservedly the out of touch, cruel language used by these three Conservative councillors.

“Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities have told me of their shock that elected Conservative politicians could be so offensive about some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

“I call on my Conservative opponent at the next general election, Yousef Dahmash, to join me in condemning these remarks and the out-dated approach that they represent. He is himself a County Councillor, and former Chair of the very committee that his colleagues were speaking at.”


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