Policies of both the current Coalition Government and the previous Labour Government have undermined the efficacy of children’s services, and some services for children with disabilities have been hit particularly hard. These are the claims of a new study conducted by academics at the University of Surrey into services for children with disabilities in the county.
The study’s authors argue that the bureaucratic nature of policy and legislation developed by the previous government marginalised some children. Moreover, progress in provision that was made between 2009 and 2011, against this backdrop, is now further threatened by funding cuts applied by the current Coalition Government, which may compound this marginalisation.
With the provisions of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in place, the effectiveness of all services is under the spot-light, and those for children with disabilities, which can be expensive, are under pressure for cuts. The Coalition’s Early Intervention Grant, which replaces the Labour Government’s Aiming High for Disabled Children Programme, is not ring fenced for families with disabled children and can be diverted into other services.
The study, by staff in the University’s psychology and economics departments, suggests that attempts by central government in the last decade to pursue a more inclusive agenda have resulted in a complex web of policies that have left voluntary organisations, charities and local district and borough councils taking the strain.
The study investigated access to short break services by families with a disabled child and identified opportunities for these children to participate in play and leisure schemes. Researchers established a range of holiday play schemes for children with disabilities in Surrey. They also explored the views of service providers (including charities and local authorities) and parents and carers on the most appropriate services for children with different categories of disability.
Dr Heather Gage, who led the research, said: “Surrey benefits from a high level of provision by the voluntary and charity sector; however, due to complicated funding arrangements, there is no evidence to show that services are reaching even a majority of disabled children. The fear is that some disabled children are still very isolated when not in school.”
A new large-scale survey has just been launched that aims to reach all parents and carers of children with disabilities in Surrey to learn more about their use of existing play and leisure provision and their needs and preferences for such services.