New deal for disabled children

A new deal for disabled children and their families is in the offing. Christine Leneham examines the reform

There are 770,000 disabled children under the age of 16 in England and Wales who should have the best possible start in life. But services for them have often fallen behind what is desired.

Last year, the government launched Aiming High for Disabled Children (AHDC), a programme that designed to transform services for disabled children and their families.

Building on the Every Child Matters programme, AHDC targets three areas to improve over the next three years: access and empowerment responsive services and timely support and improving quality and capacity.

Specific service improvements outlined in AHDC include reforming short breaks to benefit equally parents and children, which has been backed by £370m to develop services improving child care, where £35m has been earmarked for improving access to child care and overhauling transition services.

National standards

The government has also introduced specific measures to support AHDC. These include the “core offer,” which consists of national standards that disabled children and their families can use to gauge how they are treated in their localities and the disability indicator, which will examine parents and disabled children’s experiences of services and delivery when it goes live next year.

The government has also allocated £5m to support the development of parent participation in the core offer to build equal relationships between parents and professionals. Another key challenge for AHDC is how to involve disabled children and young people.

The core offer and the indicator will help focus activity on the five areas where changes need to be delivered:

● Information: local partners must ensure that information for families and young people is delivered in a timely and effective way and work creatively to ensure success.

● Transparency: families need to understand eligibility and entitlement.

● Assessment: families and young people need to know the purpose of each assessment, how it builds on previous assessments and what the outcomes are likely to be.

● Participation: families and young people should be an integral part of AHDC planning at all levels.

● Feedback not just complaints: families often say that little things made a difference and service providers need to hear this.

The programme is an opportunity for an overhaul of services for disabled children and their families and making long-lasting improvements. It will put service users at the heart of development so they can shape and design the services they and their families require for leading fulfilling lives.

So as a practitioner, a manager, a commissioner, where do you start? Here are some top tips:

● Ensure you have a mechanism for involving disabled children and their families in planning.

● Build on partnerships between health and social care, work regionally and pool your knowledge.

● Have a third sector children’s forum.

● Encourage local groups to sign up to the Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) charter 

Experts, social workers and parents with disabled children will be discussing the implementation and development of AHDC at a Community Care conference in November (see Want to learn more). It will also report back on the lessons of the pilots, offer practical advice on setting up short break services and suggest ways of making universal services more inclusive.

These reforms could make a real difference to disabled children and their families and make all the talk of participation and enabling people to live normal lives a reality.

Christine Lenehan is director of the Council for Disabled Children

Want to learn more?

Christine Lenehan will be speaking at “Aiming High For Disabled Children: Putting new government policy into practice” held on 18 November 2008 in London. To book, phone 020 7347 3574 or e-mail Check the programme here

This article is published in the 9 October edition of Community Care under the headline, “Quality is the core target”.

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