Lack of childcare for disabled children prevents parents returning to work
The results of the Daycare Trust’s 2012 Childcare Survey highlighted a number of issues which affect parents and carers who use childcare providers in order to allow them to return to work or pursue education or training. These include spiralling childcare costs which are increasing above the rate of inflation, the stagnation of wages and the reduction in support available for childcare through tax credits. Most importantly, the report reveals major gaps in childcare provision for disabled children.
Broadcast and press coverage of the report, including the BBC’s Panorama programme, focused on challenges faced by parents of mainstream children, with little reference made to the gaps in provision and the barriers in place for children with disabilities and SEN to access childcare.
Many parents and carers of disabled children are not yet faced with the challenge of paying for the cost of childcare, but are living in areas across the country where the choice of childcare providers is significantly low or non-existent. For those parents, the opportunities to return to work or education are greatly reduced. The Childcare Act 2006 places a duty upon local authorities to have particular regard to the services suitable for disabled children when assessing the sufficiency and supply of childcare in their area. However, the truth is that many areas do not have enough affordable childcare for this group of children and young people.
Through Aiming High for Disabled Children, significant funding was made available for services for disabled children. However, many of these services are only able to offer short periods of care, often two hours per week, which clearly do not meet the needs of parents or carers in work or education who require full day care. These “short breaks” would be seen as a luxury if they were in place to supplement a range of after school clubs, holiday clubs and full day care. On their own, though, they offer some parents a chance to do the supermarket shopping, have a break, or spend time with their other children; they do not provide opportunities to return to work or education.
For those parents and carers who live in an area where suitable childcare is provided, they are often faced with above average childcare fees – an Every Disabled Child Matters briefing (Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 2006) revealed that parents of disabled children are paying around five times more towards childcare costs than parents of non-disabled children.
If parents and carers can manage to negotiate their way through the web of benefits and grants and the many meetings with social services, they may decide to take control of some of the funding themselves through opting to use direct payments. Direct payments can be used by a parent or carer of a disabled child to pay for some of the care and services required by the child following an assessment by social services. However, in some areas local authorities are planning to stop the use of these payments to pay childcare fees, placing yet another barrier in the way of families.
Childcare providers often feel that to offer a high quality service to disabled children and their families they need specialist training, adaptations to premises, specialist equipment, access to timely specialist advice and to tackle some attitudinal concerns within existing staff teams. Without an infrastructure in place to offer elements of this package of support many mainstream childcare providers will never take the steps required to become truly inclusive, and parents will continue to face problems when trying to source a childcare place for their disabled child.
Caroline Costello is Development Manager at Unique Kidz and Co, a charity which offers a wide range of specialist services for disabled children and their siblings in North Lancashire: