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'Left in the dark': Councils fail to give families with disabled children basic guidance on childcare

Article By: Melissa McAlees, News Editor

Families with disabled children are frequently 'left in the dark' when it comes to childcare due to a lack of information from local authorities, new research suggests.

A report from the Family and Childcare Trust revealed nearly one third of local authorities do not provide basic guidance for parents about accessing childcare for children with disabilities.

Local authorities have a legal duty, as part of their 'Local Offer', to provide information about services and support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Ellen Broome, deputy chief executive at the Family and Childcare Trust, said: "High-quality information and guidance increases parents’ confidence that suitable childcare is available and helps them to overcome barriers to accessing a childcare place.

"The current lack of information adds yet another obstacle to the struggle families often face when looking for childcare that gives their children the best start in life and helps parents to work.

"Our report shows that while some local authorities are providing parents with excellent information, very few provide the comprehensive information and advice parents need. Most local authorities have clear areas for improvement. Local and central Government must work together to make sure that every family is able to get the information they need to access high-quality childcare."


The 'Childcare for all: the role of the Local Offer' report, which was funded by the Soebel Foundation, found that only one quarter of local authorities explain providers’ duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' for children with disabilities under the Equalities Act 2010, while 16 per cent provide information for parents about how to raise concerns about a childcare provider.

It also revealed that only half of local authorities had a directory of childcare listings that included information from providers about their individual 'Local Offer', including details such as accessibility arrangements and specialist staff training.

As a result, nine in ten parents say they find it more difficult to find childcare for a child with a disability, and a quarter of families are not accessing their free early education place.


Kate Fitch, head of public policy at Sense, said: "Sadly, these findings echo the experiences that Sense hears from the parents we support, many of whom struggle to pinpoint services near their homes that meet the needs of their disabled child.

"Access to early education and childcare is incredibly important for children with complex needs and disabilities, benefitting their physical, social, and emotional development and communication skills. There is a legal duty on local authorities to provide clear information about the different types of support services available in the area for parents with disabled children, however, all too often, families are not being correctly signposted to the support they need.

"Many families who would benefit greatly from early years support already face a number of barriers, and are not able to use the childcare opportunities they are entitled to. It is, therefore, vital that local authorities help rather than hinder parents by ensuring there is clear information and signposting to the early years settings and childcare places that families with disabled children need."


Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board says councils are determined to help children with SEND, and their families, receive the support and opportunities that they need to flourish, but with demand increasing every year, it is "proving extremely challenging."

"We were clear with the Department for Education (DfE) at the time that implementing the SEND reforms in the Children and Families Bill, including maintaining a Local Offer, was significantly underfunded by the Government and this has been borne out in reality," he said.

For more information on the report go to:


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