Mum of autistic teenager tells of ‘absolute fight’ with Derbyshire County Council

A Derbyshire mum has told of the ‘absolute fight’ she has faced to get her autistic son the education and support he deserves.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 10:50 am

Marie Martin said her son Zak, 18, has in the last three years gone from planning to take his own life to becoming a thriving young man – after she secured personal education budgets allowing him to be homeschooled.

But Marie, 54, of South Normanton, said it had been a ‘huge struggle fighting Derbyshire County Council (DCC) for this’.

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Marie Martin and her son Zak. Pictures by Brian Eyre.
Marie Martin and her son Zak. Pictures by Brian Eyre.

“If it hadn’t been for me battling all the way, he would have been left with no provision,” she told the Derbyshire Times.

“It’s been an absolute fight – a huge struggle.”

Zak was diagnosed at the age of three and has missed lots of schooling over the years.

Marie said: “On a couple of occasions he’s been out of school for months – nobody followed it up and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services had to get involved.

Well done on all your achievements, Zak.

“He attended specialist units part-time and latterly a private specialist autistic school – but nobody could meet his needs.

“Zak made himself sick to avoid school and nobody seemed to care.

“This all eventually led to Zak telling me he was planning to take his own life.

“He thought that would be a way out.

Marie is proud of what Zak has achieved.

“I was devastated and knew I needed to take drastic action.

“I did some research and uncovered personal education budgets.

“It was going to be hard work homeschooling him – but I felt I had no option.

“I had an extremely bright son, who had lots to offer, and I just needed to make things happen.

Zak on a site visit with Costain.

“We’ve had the budget for nearly three years now – but I’ve had to fight for the support to provide the funds.”

Marie said DCC left her without funds ‘for months’ during the second year, resulting in several formal complaints.

She added that she made a request for information from DCC which revealed ‘awful things that have been written about us by senior managers’.

Marie said: “One of the comments was ‘I don’t think he (Zak) needs an Education, Health and Care Plan, let alone a personal budget now he’s 16’ and another was ‘without formal qualifications his chance of employment will be severely hampered’.

“They literally wrote us off with dreadful and patronising comments.

“They even withdrew our social worker without discussing it with me or the professionals involved in our team.”

Well done, Zak!

Marie said she ‘can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t secured his personal education budgets and turned things around’.

She added: “Zak has gone from a depressed, severely anxious child to someone who does regular work experience with engineering company Costain and Highways England – they think he’s a star of the future.

“He’s gained his first formal qualifications and can now programme Excel spreadsheets and is mid-way through a Computer Aided Design course, which will complement his work experience.

“He’s even learning to drive.

“Most importantly, he’s fit and well and feels like he has a future.”

Zak – who also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, demand avoidance and tics – is very interested in engineering, particularly anything to do with motorways.

After he left mainstream education in 2018, Marie got back in touch with Richard Paddey, Costain’s highways customer lead.

She knew how much her son loved engineering and thought that focusing on this would help him feel better.

Following careful in-depth planning a few years ago, Zak was invited to his first site visit with Costain and loved it.

A spokesperson for Costain said: “Zak’s enthusiasm, knowledge and love of engineering was clear to everyone who met him, and the whole team were keen to continue supporting him.

“So Zak started to visit the project regularly, focusing on different aspects of the works each time.

“His mental health and well-being improved considerably as he had something he loved to focus on.

“Over the last three years, Zak has made many visits to Costain projects, continuing virtually during the pandemic, and the impact on his confidence, learning and development have been remarkable.”

Marie said Costain has ‘restored our faith’.

She added: “Zak has found somewhere where he is included and feels he belongs.

“Costain has opened up unimaginable doors for us – they’ve made the difference and we will both be eternally grateful to the amazing people within the team.”

A DCC spokesperson said: “The council has a duty to consider a personal budget request for those children and young people with special educational needs for whom the council maintains an Education, Health and Care Plan.

“The legislative framework is found in the Special Educational Needs (Personal Budgets) Regulations 2014, which governs (among other things) the arrangements, conditions, requirements and criteria that must be satisfied before the council can make direct payments. Furthermore, they set out how these payments should be reviewed and monitored.

“In this case, the council provided a personal budget to secure the special educational provision specified in the young person’s Education, Health and Care Plan.

“Parents and carers can be offered social care support via direct payments in lieu of services in order that personal assistants can be employed.

“Recently, children’s services have set up arrangements for mainstream social workers to access support and guidance from the disabled children’s team and it is envisaged that this will address some of the matters raised.

“Council officers will make further contact to address the issues raised in relation to the complaints process.”

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Zak has enjoyed lots of success in recent years.