Ed Balls on barriers for disabled children’s parents

Ed Balls explains what the government is doing to improve life for disabled children and their families and ensure they do not become isolated

I am passionate about improving the lives of disabled children and their families, and I know from the many parents I’ve spoken to quite how tough it can be. Parents of disabled children face huge barriers trying to find suitable childcare. But they also worry about getting a regular break from caring, and securing basic services for their children like speech and language therapy. There are things the government can do to help, but it will always be a tough job.

At the Department for Children, Schools and Families, I want to make sure we focus our attention on every child and young person, but we recognise that disabled children have not been as high on the agenda as they should have been in the past. I also want us to do more for parents. I have set up a families unit in the department to look at what more we should do for parents.

Child Poverty Unit

My department has also created a joint child poverty unit with the Department for Work and Pensions to renew our focus on tackling child poverty, and we will look at the issues facing disabled children as part of that.

Together with health secretary Alan Johnson, I have asked Conservative MP John Bercow to lead a review into the provision of services for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. I know he is determined – with the help of expert advisers – to see how we can improve the support available.

There is a long way to go, but we have already made some progress. In our report, Aiming High for Disabled Children, we concentrated on providing high quality short breaks that benefit children and their families. And we announced £340m over the next three years, of which £280m will be spent on short breaks.

We have also set aside funding to run pilots in several local authorities to look at increasing childcare for parents of disabled children and to improve the co-ordination of services for young people who are coming up to transition.

Having met really active and engaged parents over the past couple of years, I’ve made sure funds have been allocated to help local authorities set up local parent forums. I want parents to help us shape and develop new services at a local level because I want to make sure that we really do deliver better outcomes for disabled children and their families.

In the Ten-Year Youth Strategy published this summer we recognised that universal youth services should also be meeting the needs of disabled young people. I want to see them included in every youth activity – disabled and non-disabled young people should be hanging out together.

Revised carers strategy

We are also working closely with the Department of Health to inform the development of the revised carers strategy and ensure the needs of parents of disabled children are represented.

Ultimately, though, neither I nor anyone else in government can do the tough yet rewarding job that parents of disabled children and young people do every day. But what I want to do is make sure we help as much as possible. A lot of that is down to us listening. Only then can we make sure we are really providing the right services and support.

Ed Balls is secretary of state for children, schools and families 

This article appeared in the 6 December issue under the headline “Disabled children must stayat the top of the agenda”

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