Proven Practice: Including children with disabilities

The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes looks at overcoming the barriers that disabled children encounter, particularly in children's centres, extended schools and youth services

The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes looks at overcoming the barriers that disabled children encounter, particularly in children’s centres, extended schools and youth services

(picture: Inclusion of disabled children in mainstream activities can be beneficial for both groups of young people. Credit: Alamy)

Disabled children and their families commonly face social and environmental barriers to enjoying opportunities their non-disabled counterparts take for granted. Sometimes, additional support is needed to ensure disabled children and young people don’t miss out on these everyday experiences.

Inclusion in relation to disabled children and young people is interpreted in many ways. Too often disabled children and their families are offered “pseudo inclusion” – mainstream provision that says it accepts disabled children and young people, but provides little or no resources or support to enable their participation in activities.

Positive inclusion falls into two main categories:

Active inclusion: Provision that is designed and resourced to facilitate disabled children’s participation in mainstream activities and promotes interaction between disabled and non-disabled children.

Opportunity inclusion: Provision for disabled children or young people that allows them to enjoy the same activities and opportunities as non-disabled children.

Broadly, inclusion means:

● Using buildings and facilities that are accessible.

● Having trained staff in mainstream and community settings who have good disability awareness and positive attitudes towards disabled people.

● Ensuring that activities are affordable.

● Providing families with multi-agency, multi-sector information about the positive activities available to disabled children and young people.

There is clear evidence that poverty and disadvantage consistently compound the difficulties faced by disabled children and their families. Some ethnic minorities and asylum seekers face particular problems.

Diversity and inclusion

A C4EO review found poor levels of active social inclusion in children’s centres, extended schools and youth services. Inclusive practice was more common in after-school clubs and play schemes than in activities and facilities provided by leisure and sports centres.

There was scant information available on the extent to which youth services are inclusive, or the number of disabled young people who can access youth services. Out-of-school clubs and play schemes were more likely to be inclusive of disabled children than extra-curricular activities organised by schools.

Genuine inclusivity requires mainstream services to offer variety in how they meet needs of all children and young people with disabilities. They must offer specialist provision.

Care must be taken not to routinely associate membership of some ethnic minority groups with disadvantage or social exclusion. But evidence shows that disabled children from some minorities are likely to suffer disproportionately poor outcomes unless attention is paid to:

● Partnership with ethnic minority groups to influence service planning.

● Development of self-advocacy to argue for improved provision.

● Provision of information to ensure choice and involvement in decision-making.

● Bilingual staff or interpreters to improve communication and access to services.

● The development of integrated services with more resources and a higher priority than specialist services.

Similarly, research with refugees and asylum seekers highlights not only the physical and environmental barriers to accessing inclusive services but also the need to address communication difficulties and lack of social and family networks.

A lack of understanding of communication, cultural and linguistic issues on the part of service providers may compound these problems.

Promoting inclusivity for this group requires interventions to develop their own resilience, in the form of:

● Help to recover from isolation and find a sense of identity.

● Building links with community.

● Opportunities to develop and use capabilities and skills.

● Links with helpful people and institutions.

● A sense of agency – the belief that their actions can make a positive difference.

Children with complex needs

Children with complex needs face the greatest barriers to inclusivity, because they and their families are reliant on many health and social care services and support.

A different perspective argues not that some children have complex needs, but that some children need complex responses. This places the focus of attention on the quality and structure of the support service, rather than the child’s impairment.

Further information 

Messages for practitioners

● Policies and childcare, play and leisure, sport and recreation, and youth services should actively include and respond to the needs and wishes of disabled children and young people and their families.

● Any overall strategy for disabled children and their families should include a working definition of inclusion to ensure that services are genuinely and actively inclusive.

● Parents know more about their children than anyone else and should always be involved as key partners in developing an understanding of what will help them and their child most.

● Disabled children and young people should be provided with opportunities to participate in mainstream and separate activities. Disabled children and families should decide what is best for them.

● Disabled children and young people should be asked for their views on access to, quality of, and the inclusivity of activities. This will improve take-up and satisfaction levels.

● Information is crucial to inclusivity of service provision − an information strategy should include all agencies and stakeholders.

● Partnership strategies should include a policy on zero tolerance of bullying, and should involve disabled children and their parents.

Case study: Celebrating inclusive provision in the Midlands

MENCAP-DUDLEY COUNCIL Me2 kitemark award

Launched in 2001, the Me2 kitemark award developed by Mencap in partnership with Dudley Council recognises, promotes and celebrates inclusive service provision for disabled children and young people up to 20.

To achieve Me2, play, leisure and childcare settings have to work towards a set of standards showing they are accessible to all children. The award team works with settings to identify where training, development and access improvements are needed.

A panel of 24 disabled and non-disabled young people has been trained to support the project by auditing services to see how welcoming and accessible they are for all children and young people.

All awarded services receive press coverage to publicise their success and their details are shared with local signposting services.

Feedback has been positive. Parents, carers and young people are able to identify which providers offer inclusive childcare practice and can make informed choices. Services also feel more equipped to include all children and young people.

This comment from one family illustrates the benefits: “We like the Me2 scheme for two main reasons. First, we know if we see the Me2 Kitemark that the centre is suitable for our son. The second, and the most important from our point of the view, is the absolute pleasure, confidence, and positive use of his time that our son has received from being a member of the Me2 young people’s panel.”

 More about C4EO’s practice examples and validation process

Research abstracts

Author KNIGHT Abigail et al

Title “Mingling together”: promoting the social inclusion of disabled children and young people during the school holidays

Reference Child and Family Social Work, 14(1), February 2009, pp15-24.

Abstract This paper reports some of the findings of a qualitative study, On Holiday!, which analysed the views of people from six local authority research sites in England, including disabled children and young people.

The study showed that many disabled children and their families experienced high levels of social isolation and exclusion during out-of-school periods and during the school holidays in particular.

Author STOBBS Philippa

Title Extending Inclusion: access for disabled children and young people to extended schools and children’s centres: a development manual

Publisher Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2008, CD Rom

Abstract The Council for Disabled Children undertook a project to identify practice that promotes access to, and participation in, extended services for disabled children and young people, taking into account the views of those people and their families.

This guidance aims to share this developing practice, identifying both the barriers and the solutions that services are exploring to ensure that disabled children have the same access to these opportunities as other children.


Title Inclusion, social networks and resilience: strategies, practices and outcomes for disabled children and their families

Reference Social Policy and Society, 6(2), April 2007, p231-241

Abstract This paper explores the strategies of service providers and the benefits reported by disabled children and their parents or carers in three Children’s Fund programmes in England. Based on National Evaluation of the Children’s Fund research, the authors discuss how different understandings of “inclusion” informed the diverse strategies and approaches service providers adopted.

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