Parents of children with special educational needs claim to have been left in limbo over planned changes to school transport.
Kent County Council has confirmed a "shake up" to its travel arrangements – but with pupils now on half-term, many are yet to find out what will happen next week.
From Monday, the timetable and roster for existing bus and taxi services for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will change.
Transport bosses say they are in the process of arranging new transport contracts which are coming to an end.
KCC says it is being forced to make changes due to a sharp increase in eligible pupils and a shortage of bus and taxi drivers across Kent.
But many parents of SEND children say they are still in the dark about the plans – and claim they were only told by bus drivers last Thursday.
They have now been left frantically trying to find out if their child's route, pick-up time and staff attendants have changed.
"If he does not get that bus it is going to be the mother of all melt downs."
Mum-of-two Emma Ben Moussa's son Sami attends Ifield School, a special school in Gravesend.
The six-year-old has been picked up by the same drivers from his home in Swanscombe for the last two years – but has been told this will change next week.
"I have now got to prepare my child that the bus is going to change," Emma said.
"If he does not get that bus, it is going to be the mother of all meltdowns. It is scary for a special needs person."
Sami is non-verbal autistic and has a development age of around 18 months and so finds changes to his daily routine stressful.
Emma is concerned he will not be able to cope with the changes and, as she does not drive herself, is unsure how he will get to school.
She added: "They have got to provide some logic behind it. There is no reason for it to change if they can still pick up those kids."
Families were told the authority was intending to re-tender the contract back in December but say no details have emerged since.
It has led parents to accuse KCC of failing to listen to parents over their concerns.
Mum-of-three Lisa Macnally has two SEND children who attend different schools.
"As of yet I still don’t know who is going to take my son into school or when or any details."
Her youngest son Finley, eight, has global development delays, language delay, and suffers from anxiety. He gets picked up from his home in Meopham and taken to a special facility at Dartford Primary school.
Lisa, 42, said: "While I understand the shake-up is necessary and it’s always a good idea to audit everything and make sure value for money is being achieved where possible, what I do not accept is the way in which it is being done.
"Our current taxi driver and transport assistant are absolutely amazing.
"They keep Finley updated when there is traffic to ease his anxiety about getting home as this is a major trigger for him.
"In the past his anxiety about getting home has caused him to claw at his face and hyperventilate.
"He had none of this when he was in his current taxi because they made it a lovely environment and kept him really calm."
But now Lisa is unsure come Monday who will be picking up her son. She believes the situation was "completely avoidable".
The mum-of-three added: "My son has major anxiety and stress about time. KCC has not told me that there was going to be a possible issue, I only found out by chance.
"As of yet, I still don’t know who is going to take my son into school or when or any details.
"My son may not be able to attend school if he has someone different or has someone different with no notice."
Julie Masters, from Sittingbourne, has also been left frustrated by a lack of response.
She said: "Our children suffer often with severe anxiety, and changes need very careful planning.
"KCC, as I see it, is not listening to the parents who spend the majority of our lives counselling and reassuring our children, they just plough through our wishes and requests while not understanding the consequences for us as parents."
The Department for Education provides councils with guidelines about journey times for primary and secondary school pupils.
It acknowledges journey times may be longer for SEND pupils because of the greater distances they may need to travel.
"Our children suffer often with severe anxiety, and changes need very careful planning."
For primary school children, journeys should be no longer than 45 minutes and for secondary school pupils a maximum of one hour and 15 minutes is recommended.
Paola Morley, 54, said: "It is absolute chaotic. It has been so badly managed by KCC.
"They are trying to save costs. I heard they went out to tender trying to put my kids into the same vehicles to save costs."
She added: "My daughter is going to school in Medway and she will struggle. It is a another change we need to be able to prepare her for."
Ashford mum Tanya Whittworth's two sons both used a taxi service to get to the Wyvern school, having used the same driving team for the last five years since they started school. Now, they will have to travel in a minibus with as many as 11 other children with varying needs.
Her oldest son Ethan, 9, has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and is peg fed, while her younger son Ivan, 6, is blind and on the autistic spectrum.
"When Ethan was first assessed, they said he would have to travel alone because of the epilepsy and other safety issues, and he now only travels in that taxi," she explained.
"So I have no idea how we now go from that, to him needing to travel in a minibus with 11 other kids.
"It is very dangerous, he would be at the back and there would be one assistant for all of the children who would be sat at the front. They might not even notice if he had a seizure due to the nature of them."
The situation is so serious that Ms Whittworth says she will not be sending either child back to school once half term ends.
"I refuse to send them in, my kids aren’t going to school after the holidays until they get the same driver that they’ve always had, for their safety," she said.
"The council are just viewing our children as numbers. They don't have voices, so it is up to us parents to be their voices for them."
Eryn Rossiter said that she was first aware of the changes rumours through rumours on a Facebook group in December, but had been told by the council to wait to be contacted by the new transport team.
She said: "If it had not been for this Facebook group and relayed rumours from our taxi driver, we would have known nothing of these changes.
"Their lack of contact is dangerous"
"I have since found KCC's explanation for the changes on their website that gives February 11th as the date families would be contacted detailing the changes to their transport. We have still had no contact."
Mrs Rossiter said that while she understood the reasons behind the changes, she felt KCC had "lost sight of who they are servicing."
"These are children who need routine, and if changes are to happen to their routines then time is needed to explain those changes," she added.
"The council is treating their clients with a complete lack of respect and understanding. My son has suffered terrible anxiety throughout the pandemic, school is one of the few places he happily goes and his friends in his taxi are just a handful of people he speaks to.
"Their lack of contact is dangerous because it leads to misinformation and undue worry. I would expect them to have, at the very least, sent out a blanket email detailing possible changes and their reasons for it, essentially what is on their website, but they have not even done that.
"We don't know who will be taking our son to school nor do we know when he will be collected in the morning or when he'll be brought home in the afternoon. It appears there has been no thought given to parents and how they may have to change their current before and after school arrangements. The whole affair has been shockingly mismanaged."
"We want to assure the parents and their children who have not yet been notified of the details that we are working around the clock to get these arrangements finalised."
Kent County Council says it has been forced to make changes as the number of eligible SEND pupils needing transport is up almost 20% on previous years, coupled with a national shortage of drivers because of the pandemic and other factors which has led to a lack of available buses and taxis.
A statement on its website said the transport changes were being planned "as thoughtfully as possible" – but when approached by KentOnline, KCC admitted not everybody had been told what the plan was.
A spokesman said: “After the February half-term, pupils who receive Special Educational Needs (SEN) home-to-school transport will see changes in the way the service is delivered.
"We totally understand how disruptive changing routines can be for some of our children and young people.
“There has been no decrease in the funding this year for SEN transport. However there has been a 20% rise in the number eligible for the SEN service, which means we are now having to support hundreds more to make their journeys to school and college.
“Coupled with the increased costs and capacity issues currently being experienced by the transport sector, we have been left with no choice but to do more to reconfigure this service to ensure that every young person gets safely to and from their place of learning.
“We have been liaising with families, schools and colleges for several months to ensure everyone is aware these changes are coming.
"We had hoped to be able to contact all families before the half-term holiday got under way with the exact details of what these changes will mean.
"Unfortunately, it has not been possible to update everybody affected at this stage because it has taken longer than we had anticipated to complete the work needed to allocate transport to 5,500 students.
“We want to assure the parents and their children who have not yet been notified of the details that we are working around the clock to get these arrangements finalised and will make sure all families know details of their new travel provider as soon as possible."