Access to high-quality, affordable and accessible childcare is important for the educational and social development of seriously ill and disabled children. Through effective childcare, disabled children with complex needs will see progress in both their physical and mental well-being. However, there is general recognition that these support services are in decline due to funding restrictions.
Why access to high-quality childcare is vital for seriously ill children
The benefits of childcare for disabled and seriously ill children include:
- an opportunity to learn by observing and interacting with other children of similar ages
- time and support to build relationships with other children
- chances to practice social skills in real-world situations
- exposure to a wider variety of challenging activities
- an opportunity to learn at their own pace in a supportive environment
- a chance to build relationships with caring adults other than parents
Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) find it nearly impossible to secure an appropriate placement for their children. Where there are spaces available in appropriate placements, parents often cannot afford the high costs of specialist care or one-to-one support.
Results from a survey conducted by a partnership of charities in 2015 indicated that 28% of respondents did not think that the available childcare provisions were inclusive and supportive of the needs of disabled children. In addition, 25% of families that responded to a survey back in 2015 did not take up the childcare available because:
- 38% did not think that available childcare provisions could ensure that their child was cared for safely
- 33% did not think that available childcare provisions could meet their child’s additional needs
- 30% did not think that available childcare provisions had adequately trained staff
Contact’s Counting the Costs research further found that 87% of mothers with disabled children could not work as much as they would like to, often due to a lack of suitable childcare. When they can find childcare, the costs are often unaffordable.
The imperative for high-quality childcare
Under the Childcare Act 2006, local authorities in England and Wales must ensure that they take all reasonable steps to provide appropriate childcare in the area, including childcare for disabled children. There is similar legislation in Scotland (The Education (Scotland) Act 1980) and Northern Ireland (The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995).
Under the Children and Families Act 2014, local authorities in England must also include sources of information and advice about childcare for disabled children in their local offers.
All childcare providers are required by law to make reasonable adjustments to the way they provide a service, to ensure all children can access activities and facilities.
The law also says that a provider cannot treat disabled children less favourably than other children. People also cannot be directly discriminated against or harassed because they have an association with a disabled person.
What we would like to happen?
- Additional funding should be made available to local authorities to ensure adequate funding is available for all disabled children in the early years.
- Local authorities should be required to produce a local childcare inclusion plan that sets out how disabled children will be assisted to access all early year settings.
- The Local Offer should be promoted more widely and set out clearly for parents with disabled children how they can access flexible local childcare provision.