Parents have warned that cuts to school welfare staff will pull a safety net from underneath the feet of vulnerable children.

Opposition councillors and parents have described West Sussex County Council’s plans to reduce their education welfare service as “very shocking”.

Under the proposals, the service is set to be focussed on its legal responsibility to penalise parents of truanting pupils.

But opponents to the plans say the service previously created a vital independent broker between parents, schools and teachers and that without the team, schools would find it easier to remove “problem pupils”.

Proposals to be discussed at the council’s children and young people’s service select committee next week include finding savings of £290,000.

The number of education welfare officers employed by the council has recently reduced from 26 full and part-time officers to just 14 and the council is now proposing to keep these staffing levels with officers no longer assigned to a specific school.

In the last school year, the service prosecuted 81 parents for unauthorised absences and handed out 31 fixed penalties, although only a small minority of the referrals to the service ever reached this stage.

'Keep kids in school'

The report raises concerns that the reforms would mean children in need of support might not come to the attention of the authorities and that skilled and knowledgeable staff would be lost.

Schools had “considerable anxieties” about the changes, according to the report.

Liberal Democrat councillor and committee member Bob Smytherman said: “The service plays a key independent role brokering between parents, children and schools and they help keep kids in school.

“Without the EWS [Education Welfare Service], I fear that school heads and governors will use it as an opportunity to get rid of people they see as problem children.

“There will only be a few officers for the whole of the county and there is no way they will be able to do all the work that needs to be done.”

Helen Martin, from Lavant, said she and her 14-year-old son Jack, who suffers from ADHD and OCD, had benefitted from the support of education welfare officers and had serious concerns about any cuts to the service.

She said: “This would have a massive impact on us as a family if we lost the support of the education welfare service, as a lone parent I would be without a voice.

“If these cuts had happened four years ago I would have been fined £1,000 for my son being absent from school and could be in prison. Welfare officers understand my son’s disability whereas most teachers don’t quite get it.”

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