Expectations of better services for disabled children are growing thanks to action at government and council level. Christine Lenehan explains
Aiming High for Disabled Children, the government’s transformation programme launched in May 2007, is now entering a new phase. Councils and their partners have proved their readiness for short breaks and self-assessment for transition. Parents’ forums have had their first round of grants and the Child Health Strategy has renewed the NHS commitment to a joint delivery programme. Importantly, significant new money comes into local authorities and primary care trusts on 1 April. Expectations are high, but challenges still lie ahead.
It’s important to start with the children and young people themselves, whose views need to be central to the programme. Many services and processes set up for disabled children reflect a population and set of ideas that existed 10 to 15 years ago. Expectations are rightly higher now. The central challenge for Aiming High is to ensure that services are able to meet the needs of those with the most complex disabilities. This will only be possible if there is real engagement with universal services to ensure that most children are supported in universal settings, engaging in activities valued by their peers.
In the spotlight
It is also worth reflecting that this is the first time in my working life of 30-plus years that disabled children’s services have been placed in the spotlight in such a way. While this is helpful, it also exposes a service that is often poorly resourced. The change is also taking place at a time when, through the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, we have deliberately politicised the issues affecting disabled children. This has been successful with 72 local authorities and 50 primary care trusts now signed up to the charter, but it puts managers under a huge weight of expectation.
It also does not help that we are trying to implement a major change programme for a marginalised group of children when the whole of children’s social services finds itself under review. Leadership is key in any change programme, yet concerns about safeguarding may dilute the focus on disabled children yet again.
Good disabled children’s services are built on good services for all children and so some of the wider support programmes are key. Issues such as commissioning and workforce impact equally on all services. It is welcome that the Commissioning Support Programme will be looking at disabled children’s services as a priority. Workforce issues are being addressed by the Children’s Workforce Development Council, which will be looking at the complex web of professionals and settings that support disabled children.
Within the structure around AHDC, there are some key supports. Following development phases, the websites for Aiming High for Disabled Children, Together for Disabled Children, and National Transition Support Team are up and running.
It has been exciting watching the changing dynamic between service providers and parents. Aiming High must develop genuine partnerships with disabled children, young people and their families and ensure that they are allies in the change programme.
Christine Lenehan is director of the Council for Disabled Children.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Find out the latest on policy and practice at our conference, Aiming High for Disabled Children, on 27 March in London. Christine Lenehan will be leading a workshop on Strengthening Services for Disabled Children at the event.
The conference is supported by Together for Disabled Children and Community Care Inform.