What to look for and how to choose an independent educational psychologist, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or physiotherapistDr Hilary Dyer FRSA MBPsS1.
1. Availability – are they booked up for the next three months solidly or do they keep some spaces free in their diary. Can they synchronise with your timescales?
2. Approachable – when you speak to them do they sound both professional and human?
3. Responsive – do they reply to your email enquiry or phone message within a reasonable time, say 2 to 3 days?
4. Flexible- in the services they provide, or only do certain (fixed) things.
5. Contactable – How easy are they to get hold of?
6. Truly independent? Do they have contracts to work with any PCTs or the NHS? Beware those who do hold such contracts: If they do then their position, views, and perspective could well be compromised or mediated by their NHS or Local Authority contracts
7. CV – does this show evidence of Continuing Professional Development, training courses, attending conferences, and being on Working Parties etc. Is their level of qualification and training high enough?
8. Pricing – fees. Are the amounts they charge for their services justified in respect of their levels of qualification and expertise?
9. Do they have excellent testimonials from previous and current clients?
10. Information: Do they provide good quality information about their services?
11. Expertise: Do they have expertise or specialist knowledge in the area of your child’s specific disability
12. Experience of SEND Appeals and Hearings- Does this person have experience of preparing medico-legal reports for SEND appeals and hearings?
13. Have they had any specific training in preparing court reports?
14. Are they available from start to finish in your Appeal? It is hopeless to instruct someone to do an assessment that would not then appear as an Expert Witness at the SEND Appeal Hearing.
15. Do they have recent successful experience of SEND tribunal hearings and of working with other independent professionals?
16. Do they have Membership of their Professional Body and the HPC?
17. Are they willing to email you a copy of a recent anonymised report? You should certainly ask to see one. (See my next article on what a good report should contain).
18. Terms and Conditions: Do they provide clear terms and conditions for their work, including telling you when you will need to pay fees, and what amounts
19. Estimate: Do they provide potential clients with a full written detailed estimate which explains what work they will do, why they are doing this, and the uses/value of this to your case/appeal?
20. Inspiring: After having spoken to them, or received an email reply, do they inspire you to place your trust and confidence in them
21. Do they know what they are doing? Do they sound confident without being overly so, or just plain arrogant?
22. Liaison with other professionals: Are they willing to work closely with your other instructed independent professionals, such as your SALT, OT, EP, Physio, and Solicitor?
23. Do they complete work to deadlines? And can they meet the timescales required to meet your evidence deadlines?
24. Maintaining a clinical practice: Do they continue to have a portfolio of clients or to work in a Consultancy position, to maintain their clinical practice in their field alongside their medico-legal work for SEND appeals.
25. Diagnostic skills: Does this clinician use the appropriate tools to assist them in making diagnoses or assessing your child’s difficulties?
26. Qualified to diagnose: Beware some independents who claim to be able to diagnose by themselves conditions. Some conditions require multi-disciplinary teams. However as a general guide or rule the ‘pecking order’ for status and qualification to make diagnoses is: Consultant grade Paediatrician or Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Clinical or Educational Psychologist, Speech and Language Therapist or Occupational Therapist.
27. Will the person travel to your home and, if necessary, your child’s school, to conduct observations and assessments, or do you have to travel to them? Be aware that your child might well respond differently in the unfamiliar setting of the professionals’ clinics or homes.
28. When they work with your child do they immediately engage with the child? Can they ‘read’ where your child is at –are they intuitive clinicians and practitioners, and as parents frequently say ‘Does this person ‘get’ my child’.
29. Terms and Conditions: Make sure that the terms and conditions state what will be done and if not, how this reflects on the estimate you were provided with. You could well have the basis of a complaint against this professional if they did not deliver what they had stated they would.
30. Report: Check how long after the assessment of the child the report will be made available to you. Anything longer than two to three weeks really indicates that this person doesn’t work efficiently, and possibly has a back log of uncompleted reports, with yours at the bottom of the pile. This is unless there are circumstances which you are aware of, like the professional is on leave, or is awaiting a report from another person.
A few tips on making initial contact with a possible independent professional:
1. Do not expect the professional to make an over-the-phone assessment and diagnosis of your child’s difficulties and needs on the basis of what you tell them
2. Most independents offer an initial telephone consultation and enquiry of up to 30 minutes without charge.
3. Try not to use this time to recount the child’s whole history from birth, but state clearly what you are looking for, and ask for information about the services they provide
4. Be clear about what you need, ask important questions – use the list above the remind you what to ask
5. Ask about their availability and give them dates when reports are needed by. This way they can tell you straight away if they could do this. Give the date of the Tribunal Hearing and check their availability for this too.
6. Give enough information for an estimate to be provided by the Independent Professional.
© Copyright 2011 Dr Hilary Dyer