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Following the evidence to offer the best support to children with SEND and their families: introducing a new EIF Guidebook spotlight set

Dr Shaun Liverpool and Dr Virginia Ghiara reflect on the importance of early intervention for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and introduce a new EIF Guidebook spotlight set of 31 evidence-based interventions for children with SEND.

A shorter version of this blog was originally published by The Early Years Educator.

When we think about what works to support children and improve child outcomes, we know that there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. This is particularly true for children with special educational needs and disabilities, who can face unique challenges and additional barriers in having their individual needs met when compared to other children. Yet, with just under 1.5 million pupils in England with special educational needs, ensuring that children and their families can receive the right support is vital.

Effective early intervention, which works to reduce the risk factors children with special education needs might face and increase the protective factors in a child’s life, should be at the centre of effective support for children with special education needs and their families. As with any child or young person, this is about preventing problems from occurring, or tackling them head-on when they do, before they get worse. Early intervention for children with special education needs can take different forms, from parenting interventions, to school-based interventions to improve children’s social and emotional skills.

So, back to ‘the right support’; a good first step is to follow the evidence. There are high-quality interventions with evidence of improving relevant outcomes, including behavioural and emotional skills, social-emotional skills (such as the ability to socialise with peers) as well as cognitive skills (such as reading skills). We should either be using these interventions as part of the local offer, or using the learning from the evaluations of these interventions to guide more bespoke local arrangements. Either way, this is a key source of knowledge that we mustn’t waste.

The right support is also about what families want and need. Local support offers are increasingly being designed to include different modes of delivery – in person or online, and individual or group sessions. As we heard recently in a focus group on relationship support for parents of children with behaviours that challenge, families need to feel comfortable to engage with services and interventions:

‘When offering support in person, there are things that people need to think about. Where are the more neutral places that people prefer to go? You know, local authority offices are not usually considered by families to be particularly neutral. More casual places like family centres and libraries could work better. Even schools can be problematic for some families. The child might have gone to that school and it might not have worked out.’
Coordinator, voluntary sector

‘To get families on board, they need choice, so if they feel that an option is not in their headspace or is not safe enough to do, they can say it. It’s to give them control to feel that they are getting support and they are having the choice of how much support they’re having and when they’re having it.’
National representative, voluntary sector

We launched a new spotlight set as part of the EIF Guidebook earlier this month to help local areas decide what works to support children with special education needs and their families. This spotlight set provides information on 31 evidence-based interventions that are available to support children and young people with recognised or possible SEND as well as their carers. The interventions are spread across different needs and for children and young people of varying ages, as shown in the table below.

The spotlight set describes each intervention’s characteristics, such as modes of delivery, delivery settings and target audiences. For instance, many of the interventions provide face-to-face training and support for parents and carers, eight of them target children and young people mainly in school settings and two interventions target the child or young person as well as their parents. Some interventions can be delivered at home, others are delivered in in-patient or out-patient health settings, and others are delivered in community centres, children’s centres or schools.

This spotlight set is not a complete list of the evidence-based interventions that are being delivered locally, regionally and nationally to support children and young people with recognised or possible SEND, but it does give you information on what has been effective with children with different needs, and can help you to reflect on what your support offer might look like. In the future we will work to expand our list, and we are interested in hearing from intervention developers and providers that might want to have their intervention assessed as part of the Guidebook.

List of 31 evidence-based interventions in the Guidebook spotlight set

1) Interventions for parents of children with physical disabilities

2) Interventions for parents of and children with possible SEND

3) Interventions for parents of children with neurodevelopmental disorders

4) Interventions for children with internalising behaviour problems

5) Interventions for parents of and children with externalising behaviour problems 

6) Interventions for parents of and children with internalising and externalising behaviour problems