My journey with IPSEA began as a parent needing help with navigating the legal system for my disabled son. I turned to IPSEA for support and in the process was inspired and transformed into a legal helper. I began volunteering with IPSEA on the Advice Line, helping other parents with their own journeys. By 2016 I began questioning my understanding of the law and the legal system which spurred me to begin my law degree.

This year, during the final part of my degree, I have been able to combine my volunteering with my academic learning as part of my study of social justice and the role of pro bono work. I have moved into the Tribunal Helpline and Tribunal Support Service providing advice and case work for parents and carers bringing an appeal, giving me an invaluable learning experience of interacting with the court system, analysing evidence, and identifying legal arguments in support of their case. My work in helping families to prepare and submit compelling arguments meant each case settled before the hearing benefiting the child or young person.

Although the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) is designed for the litigant in person, I have witnessed an inequality of arms for parents navigating it alone and often for the first time. Shockingly even in this unequal system, data from the Ministry of Justice (2021) shows around 96% of cases decided by SENDIST were in favour of the appellant suggesting significant unlawful decision making and case management by local authorities. It feels unjust and unethical that some of the most vulnerable children and young people are faced with enormous barriers and delays to accessing the support they need, and this will motivate me to continue to try to help. My recent experience of tackling this imbalance for a small number of children has been truly life-enriching, expanding my understanding of the value of pro bono not only to the families I support, but also to me.

For anyone thinking about volunteering with IPSEA I would say don’t hesitate – you might well get more from it than you would ever anticipate!

Our volunteers generously donate their time for free. However, donations to IPSEA ensure our volunteers are fully trained, supervised and supported to deliver our vital advice services. This #VolunteersWeek, support IPSEA and our amazing volunteers by making a donation: