A DETERMINED mum who is behind an eight-year campaign following the death of her son in a mental health unit has joined a crusade to support parents grappling with the complex system around special educational needs in Southend.
Matthew Leahy died, aged 20, in November 2012.
He was found hanged in his room at the Linden Centre, a mental health unit in Chelmsford.
Melanie Leahy said her son, a former Westcliff High School pupil, was badly let down by the system and has called for a public inquiry into her son’s needless death.
She has now given her support to a new group set up in Southend in the wake of a damning Ofsted report in 2018, which concluded some of the most vulnerable young people in Southend were being let down by Southend Council’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision.
Following an Echo report on the findings, parents got together to form a Facebook support group, Southend Send Parents.
The group has grown to 1,700 members over the past year – disappointingly because little seems to have changed for parents who feel unsupported and let down.
Parents report long waits for children to be assessed by the education authority and Southend Clinical Commissioning Group to see if they have learning difficulties and thus entitled to a place in a special school.
Other children with a range of difficulties, from anxiety to autism, are given places at mainstream schools with mixed results.
Many end up being home schooled with parents saying they feel abandoned by the system.
A parent who asked not to be named said: “Home education has tripled in a year and services for our children either don’t exist at all or are run 1950s style so parents are having to fill the huge gaps in services somehow.
“Some children are simply left at home with no education or treatment for their anxiety at all, despite their parents frantically begging for these. Many aren’t even able to access an assessment for their autism. Many suffer quietly at school undiagnosed and unsupported.
“We get no response from those responsible. Our views and our presence are all but ignored.”
Maggie Cleary, one of the Southend Send Parents group founders said: “A thriving local parent support group and forum for Send Parents sprang up last year as the result of an Echo story about Southend area’s disastrous Ofsted investigation which identified weaknesses in this area.
“Parents reading the article were able to realise that their own difficulties gaining assessments and support for their children were systemic.
“In this past year our group has grown and we have been able to support each other and learn how the process of getting the right support for our children works.
It is so important because, too often, our children are at risk of mental illness as the result of unsupported needs relevant to their disability.”
“We are delighted to announce that Melanie Leahy has agreed to be one of our patrons.
“We at Southend Send Parents support her campaign to create better mental healthcare for our loved ones in Matthew’s name.”