European law firm Fieldfisher has reinforced its commitment to helping deaf children obtain the educational support they need by teaching staff at a leading deaf charity how to contest public funding decisions with minimal stress, time commitment and expense.
Led by lawyers at the firm's Manchester office, Fieldfisher's regulatory team is coordinating a pro bono initiative to help the National Deaf Children's Society with judicial reviews of local authorities.
The local authorities are being challenged because too often cut backs are being made, and deaf children their families are not being consulted on the changes to the support they receive.
Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) services, including those for deaf children, are funded by local authorities and have come under pressure as budgets have been cut.
The National Deaf Children’s Society has found that in the last 12 months, local authorities have cut £4 million from their deaf education budgets.
Many authorities have sought to reduce their spending in this area, but lawyers advising families affected by the cuts believe that not all have fully complied with their legal duty to consult with service users and their families.
Members of the Fieldfisher regulatory team have previously acted for the National Deaf Children's Society in pre-action judicial review correspondence (part of a procedure which must be followed before taking legal action, so that the parties can identify the issues in dispute and share relevant documents) with local authorities.
The team has been very successful in persuading local authorities to amend their consultation procedure, with the majority changing their process without resorting to court proceedings – saving valuable time and resources.
To provide more assistance to the National Deaf Children's Society, the team is streamlining this process and has started providing legal training to a number of the charity's staff.
Regulatory solicitor Caroline Ellard, associate Holly Bontoft and Catriona Filmer, Head of Pro Bono at Fieldfisher, recently provided training to 15 National Deaf Children's Society staff members on the principles of judicial review, the pre-action process and the latest developments in consultation case law and funding options.
The charity's staff left the session confident in how to start pre-action correspondence in future and motivated to help more families get the funding they need.
The training is the latest stage in Fieldfisher's well-established pro bono programme with the National Deaf Children's Society.
The firm is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its relationship with the charity and marked the event with a reception hosted by Fieldfisher on 30 May.
The event was attended by many of the families with deaf children who have been helped by the firm’s lawyers over the years, along with guests including Susan Daniels OBE, Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, Fieldfisher Managing Partner Michael Chissick and other senior partners and volunteers from across the firm.
To date, the firm has supported more than 50 deaf children, committed 70 lawyers and provided over £750,000-worth of legal advice to families. It has also been successful in securing the desired support in every single case the firm has taken on behalf of the families of deaf children.
Commenting on the firm's work with the charity, Holly Bontoft, associate at Fieldfisher Manchester, said:
"We have really enjoyed working with the National Deaf Children's Society and look forward to working together closely in the future.
"By training together, we gain a thorough understanding of each other's priorities and can provide the best support possible.
"We have given the National Deaf Children's Society the tools they need to recognise the best cases for legal action, to help as many children as possible get the education they deserve."
Emma Cross, who leads the charity’s support, advice and legal work, said:
“Specialist education support for deaf children has come under massive pressure in recent years, with the support these children rely on cut back to dangerously low levels.
“Without expert support, many deaf children will struggle to reach their full potential. This is why the support from Fieldfisher’s brilliant team of lawyers couldn’t be more important.
“Fieldfisher and the National Deaf Children’s Society’s appeals team have been working in partnership to challenge legal decisions and fight for the education of deaf children for five years now.
"The difference the firm has made to their lives and those of their families has been absolutely invaluable.”
For more information on the charity, please contact the National Deaf Children’s Society media team on 020 7014 1178, email@example.com. For more information on Fieldfisher and its pro bono work, please contact a member of the firm's media team.
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About The National Deaf Children’s Society
The National Deaf Children’s Society is the leading charity dedicated to creating a world without barriers for deaf children and their families.
There are more than 50,000 deaf children in the UK. We help them thrive by providing impartial, practical and emotional support, and by challenging governments and society to meet their needs.
The National Deaf Children’s Society believes that every deaf child should be valued and included by society and have the same opportunities as any other child.
For more information, please visit www.ndcs.org.uk.
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