Friday, 12 September 2014

The Nightmare Continues - and gets worse!

After the nightmare that was the transport situation yesterday, I really didn't think it could get any worse.  I was completely and utterly wrong.  

This morning, the bus arrived and I walked Adam onto it, cheerfully encouraging him that it was time for the bus.  We got as far as stepping up onto the platform and I froze.

"Where is his carseat?!" I demanded abruptly.  

This was the first time I was anything other than polite with them.

"The response from the passenger carer was, "We've been informed by the office that he doesn't need a carseat.  It's perfectly safe for him to sit on the bus seats, using our seatbelt."

"He's three years old!" I snapped.

"The office says he does not need a carseat," she replied.

"There is no circumstance in which my son is going to travel on this bus without a carseat.  That is not acceptable," and I marched Adam off the bus before having to contain him as he melted down and behind us, the bus drove away.

On my knees in the middle of the driveway, with my arms wrapped around my thrashing, screaming, flailing son, I told him I loved him, that he was safe, that he was still going to school, it would just be a little bit later on - again and again until I could get him into the house.

I rang Adam's Dad at work and through my tears and anger, told him what had happened.  He was appalled and immediately rang the Transport Office, where he was told that someone would ring him back when they got into the office.

In the meantime, I did my best to occupy Adam in the garden by blowing bubbles which is something he is normally very excited by.  On this occasion, he just stood and stared blankly, not showing even a flicker of interest.  Adam simply cannot cope with changes to the routine he expects.

Eventually, it was time to go to school and so we drove - with Adam securely strapped into his carseat!  When we arrived, Adam was restless and upset and once the staff came out to collect him, he once again melted down.  I said and signed to him, "Goodbye Mummy" and gave him a huge hug telling him I loved him before handing him over to one of the TA's and I listened to his screams echoing down the corridor as she took him to his class.  I then asked if I might speak to one of the head teachers and was very grateful to be seen by the Deputy Head immediately.

Explaining the situation, she confirmed what I already knew, that Transport is not under their jurisdiction but that they would gladly ring on my behalf as a way of adding their weight to the situation.  At that moment the Headteacher popped her head in for other reasons and was beckoned in to also hear the story.  She too offered to help and explained that although I had already spoken to the Transport Manager yesterday that they are under a service contract to the Local Authority.  With my permission, she then rang the LA, explained the situation by way of introduction and put me on the phone to re-explain.  This manager promised to contact Transport to find out what was going on and that she would ring me back.

The Head's were incredibly kind, supportive and plied me with tea while offering as much information and support as they could.  As I was leaving the school, the LA rang me back and said that having spoken to the Transport Manager, they would not be providing Adam with either a carseat or a booster seat because the law on buses is different to that of cars and he doesn't need one.  She continued to say that they believe it is very important to encourage a child's independence and to treat them as their peers until it is proven that they need otherwise and that my demand for a carseat was discouraging his independence.

I firmly stated that I had heard what they said of the law but that I disagreed and there was no circumstance in which I was going to agree to my three-year-old, profoundly disabled son, travelling for an hour a day on a bus with no carseat of any kind.  I also stated that it was unacceptable to intimate in any way that they knew what was more appropriate for my child than I do and that he would not be travelling on transport until or unless this situation was resolved.

Returning to the Headteacher's office, I updated her and she then listed a number of further options they could pursue on my behalf.  She told me that there are a number of parents at The Bridge who, because their children cannot be safely offered Transport, are instead allowed to make mileage claims in order to bring their children to school.  She said this was a reflection of the profound needs of the children attending this school and that if Transport could not meet Adam's safety needs, that I should be able to make similar claims.  I was very surprised that such an option was available, but agreed that she was welcome to pursue it on my behalf and I thanked her for her help and the various other suggestions she had also made.

Returning home, I updated my husband and then around an hour later, my phone rang.  It was the Transport Manager again and she started the conversation abruptly saying, "I've received a mileage claim application from The Bridge School.  I'm ringing to inform you that I will not be paying you mileage, we have offered you Transport that is completely legal and safe for your son and if you choose to turn that down, that's your choice."

The conversation went downhill - rapidly - from there.

I firmly replied saying that she was not offering safe transport for my son, suggesting that it was appropriate to take a three-year-old child in a bus with no form of carseat at all - despite earlier promises to the contrary - was neither safe, nor acceptable to me.

She insisted that he is too big for a carseat and that as "a strong, sturdy boy" he does not need one; she insisted that a booster seat provides absolutely no safety protection at all and is purely intended to raise a child up so they can look out of the window, something that is not necessary in a bus with their larger windows.  She insisted that they have no legal requirement to provide a carseat and that they are doing the right thing by Adam in encouraging him to be independent enough to sit in a seat on his own.  She insisted that I had never been offered a car seat in the first place or that if I had been, that the representative had given me incorrect information.  She insisted that she is "a transport professional" and it is her job to know what is and is not safe for children.  She notified me that Transport have an excellent safety record and have never been in an accident and that even if they were in an accident, the bus is so much larger and higher than other vehicles that it is not possible for passengers to be harmed in any way.  

It went on and on and on.  I argued with her, I firmly notified her of what I would and would not accept.  She even said, "Do you really think I would be having this conversation with any average parent in Telford, offering to pay them mileage to take their own kid to school?!"  At one point, my anger turned into tears as I tried to explain to her that if I am protective of my child then it's actually quite understandable considering I had watched him on life-support and waited as he nearly died.  Her response was to snap at me, "You have no idea what my background is, your son does not NEED a carseat and I will not be offering him one.  You can either choose to accept my offer of transport as it stands or you can turn it down, otherwise we're at an impasse and I will be taking him off the transport list."  I told her I would be writing to my MP and her response was to tell me to send them that letter and she would respond with all of the reasons why the offer they were making was both safe and legal and I could add that to my files.

Needless to say, we ended up at that impasse and the conversation eventually ended.

A further conversation with Adam's school and now, the Disabled Children's Services are investigating, the Local Authority will be receiving a complaint and are again involved and I will be writing to my MP seeking his help.  In the meantime, Adam will not be taking the bus!

During a lengthy conversation with the Disabled Children's Team, she said that the law may be different on the buses, but the Council have long-since committed to treating children in the same way as they would in cars and so providing suitable carseats - particularly for vulnerable and disabled children!  The school have now written a letter detailing the extent of Adam's profound disabilities and are fully participating in and supporting this investigation.

Horrendous does not even describe this ongoing situation.  

All I wanted was for my son to take the bus to school.