CHILDREN with special educational needs can now travel to and from school in Sheffield more easily and independently, thanks to a new scheme.
The project - which has already reduced the reliance of youngsters on taxis and minibuses - aims to give these children a little more freedom as they progress from children to teenagers.
“These kids want to be treated the same as any other teenagers and that includes being able to access public transport,” a council spokesman told The Sheffield Telegraph.”
Cllr Colin Ross, Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services, who himself travelled on the bus with one of these youngsters, said: “Not everyone who has a special educational need wants to take specialist transport to get them to and from school.
“Some feel this sets them apart from their peers and they, quite rightly, want the chance to be able to experience normal life for themselves.
“We have listened to their requests and taken this on board. And as a result of widespread consultation we are now able to offer them an independent travel experience.
One parent, Debra Marshall, admitted she initially had concerns when her autistic 16-year-old son Curtis began to use public transport rather than Special Educational Needs transport. She said: “If I could I would wrap him up in cotton wool and keep him attached to me until he is 50, but that is something that would not help him at all.
“At first I was frightened about how he would cope – Curtis is not a boy who goes out on his own at all, let alone go on public transport, so this was a whole new experience for us all.
“However, we have had such great support from Sheffield City Council transport officers that my mind was completely put at ease. Although Curtis still needs someone to be with him, he is getting much more independent and I would urge all other parents to let their children have this experience. After all, sadly we won’t be able to be with them all their lives and they need to be able to live without us.”
Council chiefs are also keen to say that although these changes will create some cost savings, this is by no means the main reason for them. They are stressing this change is only being done for those who do not want to take special transport. Those that still require, or who want SEN transport, will still have access to access it.
“There are some young people who are benefiting enormously from independent travel training,” added Cllr Ross.
“However, there are a number of young people who will always need an intensive level of support and we will not be taking that support away from them.”
Already the Council has been running its “Get Going” project for the past 18 months, working with youngsters, their parents and carers.
Arrangements are being tailored to suit each child, as a result of discussions with parents and carers.