IMOGEN Grant is 13. She is autistic. And she has been waiting at home every day for 18 months for a school place.
Her predicament is the heart-breaking result of her disastrous move to secondary school and funding cuts robbing the families of disabled children of vital support and services.
7 Imogen Grant has been out of school for the past 18 months as she couldn’t be accommodated at a specialist secondaryCredit: Sophie Mutevelian
As well as autism, Imogen has ADHD, which makes it difficult for her to concentrate in class and her behaviour can be disruptive.
While she attended a mainstream primary school, her parents — vocal coaches Carrie and David Grant from BBC1’s Fame Academy — secured her a place at a specialist secondary school in September 2017.
But she was a pupil there for just six weeks. Rather than implement a strategy to deal with her needs, Imogen was forced to spend days alone with only a teaching assistant for company.
Things reached crisis point when a text from Imogen flashed up on Carrie’s phone as she boarded a flight for work.
“Please help me, Mummy,” it read. “They keep putting me in this room on my own, I’m not allowed to play with anyone, please help me.”
The schoolgirl, in floods of tears, had just fled the tiny classroom she had been kept in and dashed to the loo to escape her ordeal.
‘SYMPTOMS WERE AWFUL’
When Carrie, 53, returned a couple of days later, the headteacher decided the girls’ school could no longer provide for Imogen.
With no suitable alternative place available within 90 minutes of their North London home, Imogen has been stuck waiting ever since.
“As a dad, it’s my job to protect my children,” says David. “But you can’t protect if you can’t access the services and tools you need.”
Carrie adds: “It’s going to cost the Government so much more in the long run than £434million
This is why the couple are backing The Sun’s Give It Back campaign demanding the Government plug the annual £434million funding gap for care services for disabled children.
David, 62, says: “I’m really pleased The Sun is engaging in a campaign to try to get this money back.
“There’s been such a silence about it. I think the Government has been taking money from the weakest, who will cause them the least hassle.”
Carrie adds: “It’s going to cost the Government so much more in the long run than £434million because the damage done in the waiting — for assessments, diagnosis, appointments, counselling, a school — is so profound and so acute that it will cost gazillions more than the money saved by cutting that amount.
“Children have to live day in, day out without that access to services. That has a profound effect on a child’s mental health — and their family.”
7 Imogen’s parents – Carrie and David Grant – have four children who all have special needsCredit: Sophie Mutevelian
7 Their daughter Talia has high-functioning autism and is the first actress to play an autistic character in a UK dramaCredit: C4
7 Eldest daughter Olive Gray is an actress who has ADHD and dyspraxia and has gone on to star in Netflix’s Sex EducationCredit: netflix
Carrie feels that when Imogen lost her school place, she was effectively being told she was too academic for special school and too autistic for mainstream school.
She says: “So if you say to my child, who I think is phenomenal, magical and incredibly intelligent, ‘Sorry, there isn’t a school for you’, what impact do you think that’s going to have on her mental health as a 13-year-old working out her identity?
“The message is you don’t fit with these people, you don’t fit with those people, you don’t actually fit anywhere, Imogen. You fit nowhere.”PARENTS LEFT TO PICK UP THE PIECES
Imogen experienced post-traumatic stress disorder for five months after she was prevented from going to school.
Carrie adds: “Her symptoms were just awful when she realised she didn’t even fit in at the autistic school. She wouldn’t leave her bedroom.
“David and I were beside ourselves. We kept asking what will become of her, this child who’s been so traumatised by school.”
The message is you don’t fit with these people, you don’t fit with those people, you don’t actually fit anywhere, Imogen. You fit nowhere.Carrie Grant
Imogen is just one of thousands of children with disabilities and additional needs that are being let down by the Government, leaving her parents to pick up the pieces.
Carrie and David have four children, all with special needs.
Their two eldest daughters are Sex Education actress Olive Gray, 24, who has ADHD and dyspraxia, and Hollyoaks star Talia Grant, 17, who is the first autistic actress to play an autistic character in a UK drama.
She has high-functioning autism and has struggled with her mental health, including with suicidal thoughts, since she was just nine years old.
The couple also have an adopted son Nathan, nine, who has ADHD, dyspraxia and attachment issues related to trauma in his early life.
As well as juggling the additional parental responsibilities that come with having children with special needs, the couple have also built up a support group for 120 families with high-functioning autistic girls.
Once a month, the parents meet to learn from each other and listen to guest speakers.
At the same time, their daughters meet in a separate room, where they spend vital time together.
7 Carrie and David are backing The Sun’s new Give it Back campaign demanding the Government reinstate the £434million of funding it has axedCredit: Rex Features
7 Carrie says that when Imogen lost her school place she was effectively being told she was too academic for special school and too autistic for mainstream schoolCredit: Alamy Live News
Carrie says: “Many, especially if they’re high-functioning, have never met another girl with autism because they are in mainstream school.”
To highlight just how difficult it is to get support, Carrie explains: “Your child can have attempted suicide in the evening — but if you didn’t take them to A&E and instead the next morning you call CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and say a child in my care has tried to kill themselves, they’ll ask, ‘Is that child alive now?’
“And if you say ‘yes’ and that you didn’t go to A&E, they’ll say, ‘Well, you can’t access our services because your need is not great enough’.”
Talia was on suicide watch in hospital six times over three years after she was bullied at school.
But Carrie says her family were only able to access an emergency team of specialists after their second hospital admittance.
“When they finally arrived I was like, ‘Who are you? Why have you not been available before?’
“I wish I was the only parent that was going through this. But I’m not, it is so common.”
Carrie believes only 25 per cent of CAMHS referrals lead to an appointment. She adds: “Who is caring for the 75 per cent of children not getting seen?
“The toll is felt by the parents, but especially the mothers — who have to give up their jobs to be at home trying to be a caregiver, counsellor, advocate and educator.
“Often the dads are out trying frantically to earn enough money and — as we’ve found in our group — what happens in many cases is the partner comes home from work and doesn’t relate to anything that’s going on at home.”
A Disabled Children’s Partnership survey of 3,400 parents found 40 per cent had experience relationship breakdown since their diagnosis — with the lack of Government support often cited as a key reason.
The toll is felt by the parents, but especially the mothers — who have to give up their jobs to be at home trying to be a caregiver, counsellor, advocate and educator.Carrie Grant
And 53 per cent of parents had to give up work to fight for their child.
Carrie and David, who count themselves among the lucky ones having been married 30 years — would love to meet Chancellor Philip Hammond and talk about the spending cuts that are bringing so many families of disabled children to crisis point.
Carrie says: “I would ask him to find the compassion in his heart. If he was living it, he would know giving back the £434million isn’t enough — he’d be putting back in three times that amount. People are having to change their whole lives.”
How to support the callFAMILIES with some of the most vulnerable children in the country are disintegrating because the support they desperately needis not available.
This needs to stop, and it is why The Sun has teamed up with the Disabled Children’s Partnership, an umbrella organisation of 60 leading disability charities in the UK, to help.
We are asking:
The Government to Give It Back and plug the £434million funding gap for care services for disabled children.
For Sun readers to sign our letter – written by mum Vickey Kowal, whose son Ollie, seven, has a rare genetic condition – to pressure the Government to Give It Back.
Together, we can make a real difference and vastly improve life for the disabled children in the UK.
To sign the letter, go online at thesun.co.uk/olliesletter.
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David adds: “The biggest problem parents in our support group face is they can’t get their child diagnosed because lots of councils are not even allowing the autism assessment to take place because they don’t have the money to deal with this.
“They’re effectively saying that if they don’t know there’s a problem then then have no statutory obligation to deal with it. It’s absolutely scandalous.
“Imagine if this was cancer treatment, and they were saying, ‘We’re not going to test you for it because we can’t afford to treat you?”
7 Imogen is one of thousands of children with disabilities who are being let down and her parents believe it’s time to speak upCredit: Alamy Live News
Autistic boy, Alex Kentfield, without a school for September after condition is deemed ‘too severe’ for mainstream but not enough for specialist