Thousands of disabled children are losing out on quality child care. Gordon Carson reports
Sure Start, children’s centres and the Childcare Act 2006 are all evidence of the government’s commitment to child care, which has undoubtedly helped thousands of parents and children in England.
But disabled children continue to face barriers to good child care.
The Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, launched during the party conference season and run by the Council for Disabled Children, Contact a Family, Mencap and the Special Educational Consortium, aims to force the government to change this situation.
Campaign manager Steve Broach says the government has made it clear that every child matters, but a “very substantial group of children”, the 770,000 who are disabled, are still losing out on child care.
This will not be news to the government, though. In 2005, it produced a report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, which highlighted problems in the cost of child care for disabled children and the lack of training for staff to meet disabled children’s needs. Since then, parliament has passed the Childcare Act 2006, giving councils the duty to provide enough child care for working families with children aged up to 14, or 18 if they are disabled.
But Broach warns this could be meaningless if not funded better. He says staff in too many child care settings are also “frightened of working with disabled children and don’t feel they can meet their needs”.
The Transformation Fund has helped child care providers train staff to work with disabled children, but Broach wants more providers to give staff basic disability equality and awareness-raising training.
There is a big role here for the Children’s Workforce Development Council, which has been charged with training the ever-expanding child care workforce. The CWDC’s induction standards, introduced for children’s social care in September, and set to be rolled out to early years professionals, contain a section on supporting disabled children and children with special educational needs. The standards state that staff must show they understand the social model of disability and must
appreciate the need to adapt activities for individual children.
Pauline Jones, the CWDC’s development manager for early years, says the body tries to ensure its training covers work with disabled children. “Even in standards not specifically about children with special educational needs or disabilities we use examples about them,” she says.
But, when asked whether the CWDC receives many enquiries from child care providers about training for staff working with disabled children, she replies: “If only.”
Despite the campaign’s concernthat councils may not be able to fulfil the duty to provide sufficient child care for disabled children there are examples of good practice among local authorities.
For example, in a report last year Ofsted praised a model of child care for disabled children developed by Bolton Council.
Its inclusive playcare model brings together education, health, social services and child care providers, with a single referral point to co-ordinate support and funding for children. Other councils have adopted the approach and it has been adapted for use in settings such as childminding.