Disability must be no barrier to child care

Last week Philippa Russell from the Council for Disabled Children
provided a sharp and telling reminder of the continuing
marginalisation of many disabled children from the rapidly
mushrooming business of child care. Speaking at Kids’ Clubs
Network’s conference she quoted one mother: “Children like to be
with their peers. All my son wants is to be with his mates at the
after-school club – not to be whisked away by the school taxi at

Maeve Sherlock, formerly of the National Council for One Parent
Families, and now an adviser to Gordon Brown at the Treasury,
reminded us that £1m a day is now invested by government in
child care. By 2005, when the budget rises to £1.5bn, that
will mean 120 times more is being spent than in 1997. Children’s
centres are planned for 20 per cent of the poorest wards.

A fair distance has been travelled but there’s still a long journey
ahead. What’s vital is to liberate disabled children, particularly
those who are older, from the dead end in which too many have been
dumped – literally denied access to friendship, interests and
personal development which good quality child care can

According to Philippa Russell, 55 per cent of parents of disabled
children live in poverty; a disabled child incurs three times the

Yet, while 22 per cent of the mothers of non-disabled mothers work
full time and 39 per cent part time – only 3 per cent of mothers of
disabled children are in full-time employment and only 13 per cent
work part-time. Yet, in the first major study of its kind, 85 per
cent said they wanted some kind of employment.

Providers talk about concerns with lifting and handling,
medication, accessibility and the provision of equipment. Philippa
Russell argues that what’s required is generous government
subsidies, bursary schemes for individual children and
childminders; improving the disabled child premium in the working
families tax credit; improved resources to social services and a
genuine commitment to “fulfilling lives”, a key theme of the
Valuing People strategy.

What’s also essential, she argues, is the abandonment of the
assumption that parents from ethnic groups prefer for cultural
reasons to bring up their children without support.

She quoted again from a mother of a disabled child, words that we
all need to heed: “Good quality accessible child care for disabled
children is social inclusion for everyone – and it can take parents
like me out of the poverty trap…open the doors!”

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