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Families struggle to find suitable childcare for children with learning disabilities during school holidays

Article By: Ellie Spanswick, News Editor

Parents with a child with a learning disability are finding it difficult to access childcare services during the school summer holidays.

In a survey conducted by learning disability charity Mencap, four out of five parents with a child with a learning disability revealed they found it difficult to access support during the school summer holidays.

The charity's ‘Levelling the playing field: Equal access to childcare for disabled children’ report, reveals that nearly half of parents surveyed said they struggled to access childcare during the summer months, with 56 per cent saying they found it difficult to access short-break and respite services.

A further seven per cent said they struggled to access Portage, the home visiting educational service for pre-school children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families.

Accessible and suitable childcare is a lifeline

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said: “For many parents of children with a learning disability this means nonstop care, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Having to care for their child who may have complex needs whilst juggling their work and other demands can push many families to breaking point.

“It is unacceptable that, despite obligations, yet again local authorities are still not doing enough to help families who are being pushed into moments of crisis. This needs to change. We need to invest in these vital services and ensure equal access to them for children with a learning disability as they can be the difference between families reaching breaking point or not.”

A lack of access to suitable childcare commonly affects parents of children with a learning disability, with 93 per cent of parent carers revealing that finding childcare for disabled children was more difficult than finding childcare for non-disabled children.

However, just 40 per cent of parents of children with a learning disability said that their child was able to access the full amount available to them, with just 21 per cent of local authorities offering sufficient childcare for disabled children.

Lack of support for providers

Chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Allliance, Neil Leitch expressed his concerns, saying: "We share the concerns Mencap is raising about the availability of childcare for children with learning disabilities.

"Many childcare providers do not receive the support - both financial and practical - needed to deliver the one-to-one quality care that children with additional needs require, leaving families struggling to access suitable care both during the holidays and throughout the rest of the year."

In July this year, the Family and Childcare Trust published a report on the lack of available childcare for parents and families across the UK. The report revealed that 88 per cent of local authorities in England, 78 per cent in Scotland and 100 per cent in Wales do not have enough childcare to satisfy the demand.

Currently, parents of disadvantaged children aged two and all children aged three and four-years-old are eligible for 15-hours of free childcare a week.

The Government’s new 30-hours scheme will allow working parents with three and four-year-old children to access an additional 15-hours of free childcare from 2017, with some areas of the UK selected to pilot the scheme from September 2016. Some early implementers and early innovators will trial new ways of delivering childcare, including making it more accessible for disabled children.

Rejected by childcare providers

Featuring in the report, Siobhán Bain from Southwark is the mother of Cillian, aged five and Fintan, aged three. Fintan has a variety of undiagnosed disorders and global developmental delay. Describing her problems finding appropriate childcare, she said: “ I have been discouraged by many of the attitudes that I have encountered while trying to find suitable childcare for my son Fintan.

“He has been rejected outright by certain childcare providers as soon as his additional needs were mentioned; others have been unable to seek one-to-one funding for Fintan.

“I am seeking a childcare setting where my son will be treated as an asset to the group, where mainstream children will be encouraged to engage with Fintan and learn about his disabilities rather than fearing them. I believe strongly in the idea of inclusion, but only if it is wholly committed to by all involved and sufficiently funded to be properly workable; conditions which I do not see as existing currently.”

A decline in services and increasing costs

Sharon Preece is another mother who is familiar with the problems that many parents are faced with when trying to find appropriate childcare during the school summer holidays. Her eight-year-old son Sam has complex needs, including a learning disability. She said: “We have found there’s been a drastic drop in what’s available for families like ours in the summer holidays. Not only have services been cut back, the ones that are left have increased in cost. The play scheme Sam goes on has gone from being free to costing £70 a week this year. I had to give up work to look after Sam, so the cost of activities has a real impact on what we can afford to do.

“It’s also difficult if you run into any problems because the local services are so stretched. Everyone goes on holiday and you’re very much left on your own. I’m concerned about what’s going to happen this summer. Sam is much calmer if we can keep him busy and in a structured environment, so a lack of services has a direct impact on him.

“We’ve been on some great activities in the past that we would never have been able to afford if they hadn’t been subsidised. But if all that’s going to stop, then we will lose that that quality time that other families take for granted.”

Making childcare more accessible

Mencap is calling on local authorities and the Government to consider a more flexible approach to childcare and short-break services for the families of children with a learning disability.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We are doing more than ever before to support families with the cost and availability of childcare, including those whose children have additional needs. We’re investing an extra £1bn per year by 2020 to help working families, doubling our free offer for three and four-year olds, which can be used during holidays as well as term-time and consulting on early years funding changes to increase access for disabled children. “However it is up to councils to ensure they provide adequate childcare across the year for children up to age 14 for parents who are working, studying or training and to ensure all parents are aware of the options available to them locally.” From September, parents and childcare providers will have the right to request wrap-around and holiday childcare at schools. The Government is urging local authorities to publish this information on their websites to ensure that parents are informed.


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