Quality child care denied to special needs children

Despite all child care providers being required under disability discrimination laws to make reasonable adjustments to improve accessibility for disabled children, the latest research suggests children with special needs still face significant barriers to accessing quality child care.

At the end of last year, education and care watchdog Ofsted surveyed 42 child care settings deemed to be good at supporting children with special needs. The aim was to evaluate what providers in the private and voluntary sector are doing to make it easier for this group to access care and education and to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes. 

The results, published last month, suggest that despite pockets of excellence, good practice in this field remains neither widespread nor consistent.

“We found some inspirational practice amongst childminders and day care providers,” concludes chief inspector David Bell. “However, we also found, too commonly, that inconsistency and lack of joined-up support created unnecessary barriers to the inclusion of children with special needs.”

 The attitude and awareness of staff is key. The research reveals that, when a provider displays a “can-do” approach, barriers to inclusion can be overcome.

But two of other the main issues that influence progress are funding and support from local authorities, and access to specialist training. As a result, services for children depend on where they live, not what they need.

In terms of funding, one in three providers in this study experienced difficulty in accessing money to provide additional support for children with special needs, and cash for providing one-to-one support for children with special needs was rare.

Ofsted recommends the Department for Education and Skills works with local authorities to establish strategic partnerships between local children’s services that enable early years providers to get the funding and the multi-agency support they need to promote positive outcomes.

It also recommends that the dfes works with others to create a clearly accredited and nationally recognised training route to increase the confidence and level of skills within the sector in relation to working with children with special needs. 

Given the “inconsistent” and “inaccessible” training currently available (see below), this must surely be made a top priority for the government and the Children’s Workforce Development Council.

Removing Barriers: A ‘Can-do’ Attitude from www.ofsted.gov.uk

Key training issues

  • Only half the providers visited were able to access training in medical procedures to help them meet the health care needs of a wider range of children.
  • The lack of access to appropriate  specialist risk assessment training for disabled children and children with special educational needs causes barriers to their participation.
  • Training on personal restraint or physical intervention is not widely available and much of it focuses on older children.
  • Only half of the providers visited had accessed specific training in early identification of special needs. Providers would like more access to this type of training but it is not readily available.
  • Most providers recognised that there was a need for training to overcome staff fears and assumptions that present barriers to inclusion. However, only just over half of those visited had accessed such training.

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