A Greenwich parent has highlighted the plight of families struggling with providing complex, 24-hour care to children with severe emotional and educational needs, saying it has driven him to “absolute breaking point”.

John McIntyre and his wife have provided around the clock care for nine-year-old son Ethan since schools across the UK closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ethan, who has autism which requires “a level of structure and routine” according to John, has attended the special unit at Greenwich’s Millennium Primary School since September last year where he has benefitted from small-group learning, occupational therapy and sensory support.

“With that all being removed from him, he’s struggling,” John said, adding that his son was now “melting down more frequently, with the episodes becoming more violent and including biting his younger brother.

John also harboured concerns over what the closures could mean for Ethan’s emotional development.

“I’m confident with (his brother) he’ll be fine. But with Ethan, it could take months or years easily to get back up to speed,” he said.

“It’s going to put him back years.”

It’s led to massive pressure on the family.

Both parents run their own companies from home as well as caring for both sons full-time, while these difficulties were exacerbated by recent surgery John himself had undergone, as well as the death of his father.

It drove him to reaching “absolute breaking point” earlier this month, which led to him driving down to Ethan’s school.

“Ethan had a terrible morning – I just couldn’t cope,” John said.

“I called and said I’m coming down and bringing Ethan.”

While the school couldn’t take Ethan on the day, the visit triggered an inquiry from Greenwich’s children’s services asking what could be done to help, which will see an upcoming hearing held to allow John to voice his hardships and plan a way forward.

However, John is adamant the best option for his son would be a return to school.

“Fundamentally, what would help is him being at school getting routine,” John said.

Since the shutdown, schools have remained open on a limited basis for children of essential workers and vulnerable children – including those with Education, Health and Care plans like Ethan.

The latest Government advise states there is “a large societal benefit from vulnerable children, or the children of critical workers, attending school: local authorities and schools should therefore urge more children who would benefit from attending in person to do so”.

Schools, parents and local authorities currently work together to provide risk assessments for individual students to ensure some vulnerable members can return.

However some schools dreadfully impacted by a lack of staff and other conditions associated with the coronavirus pandemic don’t have suitable resources available for high-needs children like Ethan.

Not all specialist provision is open in the borough, meaning some children classified as vulnerable remain unable to attend school in the borough, even when their parents agree it is the most suitable environment for them.

A report presented to Greenwich’s cabinet this week stated that 18 per cent of these children in the borough are still attending school.

Opposition leader Nigel Fletcher honed in on the point and asked what action was being taken to increase that proportion.

The council subsequently told the local democracy reporting service the percentage of vulnerable children now attending school  has since risen to 27 per cent, against a national average of 14.

“This follows the local authority writing to all children with a social worker and all schools continuing to engage and encourage vulnerable children to attend school,” the authority said. 

A spokesperson for Maritime Academy Trust, which operates Millennium Primary School, said “the health, safety and well-being of our pupils and staff are our utmost priority”.

“Due to the challenges associated with COVID-19, and in line with current government guidance, children and young people with education health and care (EHC) plans are able to attend provision where it is safe and appropriate for them to do so, based on a risk assessment approach for each individual pupil,” the trust said. 

“The local authority, families and schools continue to work together to keep individual risk assessments under review and identify what provision can be reasonably provided for in line with education, health and care (EHC) plans during this time. Schools continue to work hard to support vulnerable pupils and their families throughout these difficult times.”