Sutton-based SEND service provider, PlayWise CIC, has temporarily suspended their family support following funding and grant money shortages.

The fund exists to help low-income families access the group’s SEND focused support services. 

PlayWise offers a range of services to anyone that is supporting a child with an additional need or disability in Sutton.

These services include at home support portage service, where experts help with a child’s development,  sleep counselling and support groups for parents.

The announcement of the low-income family support  fund’s closure, after only three years, adds to the growing concern over the state of Sutton’s SEND provision.

As parents battle for school places and tailored EHCP plans to guarantee schooling for their children, news of the fund’s suspensions has, unsurprisingly, not been welcomed.

Hayley Harding of Worcester Park, has an eight year old son who is autistic and regularly uses SEND services in Sutton.

As well as being a mother, she helps other parents fight for better SEND services under the banner of her Sutton EHCP Crisis campaign group.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, she said: “It’s a real shame that Playwise have had to stop this fund.

"They do so much for families here I’m certain that this wasn’t done lightly.

"I really hope more donations come in and grants obtained so it can be restarted because for some families in Sutton their help is a complete lifeline”

On PlayWise’s announcement on Facebook, Clare Margaret echoed Harding’s lament for the fund’s closure, saying: “It an investment because if you help people early on then it can avoid so many longer term issues.

"But you know all that. I can only hope political climate changes and things get better financially for everyone as a result.”

In their official statement, posted on January 4, Playwise said: “It is with great difficulty and sadness that we have had to close the PlayWise Family Support Fund as of 1st January 2024! We hope that this is a temporary status.

"This is due to the ongoing challenges with fundraising and grant funding. 

"Over the last 3 years, our Family Support Fund has proved to be a vital source of support to families with a child with Special Educational Needs & Disability and helped over 80 families with home interventions, PlayWise membership and sleep interventions. 

"The fund has supported Sutton-based disabled children and their families to become more independent, develop new skills, provide crucial family support and peer networks, provide advice and guidance, provide access to a safe space to play, access to courses and parental support and so much more.

"Unfortunately, the rising cost of living, the unprecedented demand on the service, and the decrease in charitable giving/donations has meant that we are unable to keep up with this demand. 

"We are working hard to seek financial options to re-open this fund so that we are able to continue to support families when they need our help the most and to prevent barriers for parents of children with SEND accessing the right support at the right time.”

While PlayWise will still operate its play services for those who can pay for them, the chance for low-income families to access these services will be suspended until they can locate alternate sources of funding or grants. 

While not funded by Sutton Council, the family support fund worked alongside the council’s own special schools, providing after-school support in the form of play groups and parental support for families.

Therefore, the loss of such a service will not only impact these families, but also the Council who rely on these services to provide holistic support outside the classroom. 

When approached for comment, a spokesperson for the London Borough of Sutton told the LDRS: “The experiences of children and families with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities continues to be a focus for Sutton Council and our local partners. The Playwise Family Support Fund was set up and managed independently of the Council and we are sorry to hear that Playwise are no longer able to run this fund.

"We understand the current cost of living crisis and increase in needs nationally is having a serious impact on small charities and community interest groups. We will continue to work with Playwise, other service providers, partners, parents and carers on improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND.”