Working with Bolton IAS
Bolton Information Advisory Service
Bolton IAS is a statutory service, commissioned by Bolton Council. The Children’s & Families Act 2014 made it law that impartial SEND advice and guidance must be made available for local families and that local authorities must commission a service to provide this. This is done ‘at arms length‘ which means that although the council pays for this service, they mustn’t influence or run it. Every area has an IAS, they are sometimes called something different, and sometimes they are run by national charities. Our IAS in Bolton has been around for many years, and is run for Bolton families, by Bolton families.
How are IAS and BPC different?
The simplest way to explain how we differ as organisations is that IAS works for individual families and BPC works for the collective of Bolton SEND families. Here at BPC we seek to gather the experiences of as many Bolton families as possible and ensure those experiences are heard at a strategic level. At IAS, individuals can be supported with advice and guidance for their own child or young person.
How we work together in Bolton
Since 2017 Cheryl Wyatt from IAS and Nan Cooper from BPC have co-designed and co-hosted parent carer workshops together. By working together like this we could reach a wider base of parents and carers, use our individual skill-sets, and the end result meant that upwards of 400 parents and carers per year could attend our sessions.
As a forum, we benefit from ensuring that all our workshops are legally accurate and that parents attending them can ask questions along the way that can be answered by an IAS Officer.
It turned out that by working on these workshops together for several years, Nan, from BPC, was gradually trained in all things SEND law. And in September 2019, alongside remaining as Chairperson of BPC, she began working part time for IAS.
Joint working during covid
In March 2020, we decided to work more closely together to ensure we could reach as many families as possible and on March 20th 2020 we produced the 1st of what we thought would be a few joint information bulletins to help families navigate SEND and covid. Our joint bulletins had a reach in excess of 2000 families, and ended up running until January 2021.
Why work together?
It’s quite simple really, the families we both work with are the same families. We try really hard to make sure that there is clarity between what the 2 organisations do, but it doesn’t matter which one you approach, we’ll make sure you end up with the right person!
How it works…
There’s a lot, and we mean A LOT, of talking! Everything that we learn as a forum about the world of SEND, both locally and nationally, we share with IAS to ensure that everyone working with families knows as much as they can. All the themes that staff at IAS are aware of locally are regularly communicated to the forum. This means that as a forum, alongside lots of different ways that we gather parents and carers experiences, we also have extremely up to date information about what is happening right now for Bolton’s SEND families. Where experiences are shared, they are always done anonymously, and these experiences go towards a bigger picture that enables improvement for our local area.
By working together in this way, it also enables us to have a really broad picture of what’s happening for Bolton families and how SEND is developing locally and nationally.
Don’t all areas work like this?
In short, no. There is a parent carer forum is most areas, and an IAS in all areas, most will work alongside each other respectfully, and a very small number are even joint organisations. However, as all forums are a bit different, and all IAS’s are a bit different, it means that there is no ‘typical’ way of working together, and sadly in some areas they don’t work together at all. We find that working together benefits everyone, and the people it benefits most are Bolton families.