Published: 19:56, 22 February 2022
| Updated: 20:50, 22 February 2022
An inquiry will take place after hundreds of children with special needs didn't make it into school because transport contracts were not arranged in time.
Lots of parents up and down the county have been left frantically trying to get in touch with Kent County Council over their own child's arrangements.
It comes after a "shake-up" of travel for more than 5,000 youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), which came into effect yesterday.
But the changes to bus and taxi services were only announced on the eve of half term – leaving many parents in limbo – and many have still not been contacted.
One mum from Northfleet called KCC on Monday after receiving no response and said no one arrived to pick up her disabled son.
Toni Charlick, 35, said: "I have had no emails to say no one would collect my son.
"I telephoned the transport team, waited on hold for one hour to be told that 'some contracts are still outstanding' and they could not advise me when this would be resolved."
'I have had no emails to say no one would collect my son...'
Eventually, KCC got in touch with Ms Charlick to detail arrangements for her son Adam, 16, who travels from his home in Painters Ash to Northfleet Technology College but by this time he had missed his first day back at sixth form.
"I think the way they have introduced it is shocking," she said. "It is now ten days later and they cannot even give us an idea of when it may be resolved."
Kent County Council (KCC) has said it is "deeply sorry for the anxiety caused" and would be conducting a "thorough review".
It said it needed to make changes to contracts due to an increase in demand and a shortage of drivers.
A spokesman said officers have been working hard to match more than 5,500 children and young people with new transport providers.
But despite its best efforts, there are some parents still waiting to hear who their child’s new provider will be.
KCC added that all remaining routes are now awaiting confirmation from contractors and it will continue to reimburse parents where they have to make their own arrangements.
Parents say the last-minute changes to drivers, escorts, timetables and vehicles will cause anxiety and stress for SEND youngsters.
They have accused the authority of putting “penny pinching” ahead of children’s welfare.
Mum-of-two Emma Ben Moussa's son Sami attends Ifield School, a special school in Gravesend. He is non-verbal and dislikes changes to his routine.
The six-year-old has been picked up by the same drivers from his home in Swanscombe for the last two years – but Emma was only informed a new driver would be picking him up on Friday.
She said: "I think my child is at risk of injury because of the changes.
"He has to get in a taxi with complete strangers. It is now a safeguarding issue."
'People have lost their confidence in KCC doing what is best for these children...'
"People have lost their confidence in KCC doing what is best for these children," Emma added.
"What matters to them is bums on seats. I've asked for a risk assessment but I've still not been given one."
Speaking to BBC Radio Kent earlier, county councillor for Maidstone Shellina Prendergast (Con) admitted the authority had "clearly underestimated the scale of the job".
She said that "close to 300" were without transport on Monday.
Ms Prendergast said: "I am so very sorry that parents and their children are going through this.
"I absolutely recognise the pain they are experiencing. I am a mother myself. We will endeavour to get transport in place for every child as soon as possible."
Charity Autism South East said it was hearing from understandably "frustrated, angry and upset" parents and carers.
It said the well-being of pupils must be paramount and has asked that KCC "accept that they have got this wrong and make the necessary changes".
The Kent Labour group has also called for an explanation and for the "chaotic" changes to be postponed.
Leader of the opposition at KCC and County Councillor for Northfleet and Gravesend Dr Lauren Sullivan (Lab) said: "When we were told the scale of the cuts to be made by the Conservative administration of KCC at the budget meeting on February 10 we were not told the cuts were to take place the following week in such a haphazard and chaotic manner which builds on the past failures of SEND by KCC.
"There appears to be very little genuine consultation or conversations with parents about what the changes are likely to be and the potential impacts on their children.
"When we meet with SEN families I am always struck by the complexity of their lives and the amazing job they do for their children.
"I worry about the stress on these families – especially after the particular difficulties of the last few years."
A KCC spokesman said: “We are deeply sorry for the anxiety and worry caused by the delay in notifying parents of new transport arrangements for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
“This is not a position we ever anticipated being in and we are immensely sorry for putting parents and young people through this trying time.
“Once provision is fully allocated, we will be conducting a thorough review of what went wrong and why to ensure we learn and put steps in place so this situation is not repeated.
“We understand there will be concerns about new transport providers and we want to reassure parents their child’s needs will be taken into account as assessed by a previous eligibility assessment, including if they need to travel alone or need a passenger assistant.”