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Parliamentary Inquiry into childcare for disabled children

Levelling the playing field for families with disabled children and young people

We set up the Parliamentary Inquiry into Childcare for Disabled Children to look at the extent to which disabled children and young people are included and served by the childcare system. The findings of the Inquiry will be of interest not only to government and local authorities, but all those who work with children and young people.

The Inquiry heard from parent carers and young people that the current picture is troubling. All families face childcare challenges, but these problems increase dramatically for disabled children and young people. Whilst there are numerous examples of good practice and inclusive provision, many parent carers described
being subtly discouraged or simply turned away by a provider. Some parent carers were offered fewer than the 15 hours of early education they are entitled to. Parents who wish to work succeeded in arranging suitable care often only after an exhausting battle. Parents can be, and responses to the Inquiry indicate often are, charged higher fees than for non-disabled children, but may receive no extra help when this happens.

We heard from childcare providers that many did not believe the current system ensures high quality care for disabled children and young people. Providers highlighted the frequent difficulties they had accessing inclusion support from local authorities, as well as the limited knowledge and capacity of the workforce and the inspectors charged with ensuring high standards around children that need more specialised or intensive care.

A further gap the Inquiry highlighted was in childcare for disabled young people. For nondisabled young people, holiday and out of school childcare activities are increasingly available, but disabled young people and their parents must navigate limited choices in an attempt to avoid exclusion from teenage life.

Children’s rights, the challenge of eliminating poverty and basic fairness all demand that we take the task of achieving an inclusive childcare system seriously. No child’s horizons and opportunities should be narrowed by their first encounters with education and activities outside the school system. No parent should be excluded from the opportunity to work. It makes no sense for disabled children to be included in mainstream education but excluded from mainstream childcare.

Inclusive childcare is also good policy. For example, one of the government’s key education goals is to reduce the significant vocabulary gap between low and high income children by the time they are aged five. Children with special educational needs are over-represented in children experiencing language delay. This is why access to therapeutic support is critical in closing this gap and why access to the full early education entitlement so important for these children.

Childcare is increasingly central to modern life, but the childcare system is not serving families with disabled children well. We have set out a number of steps the government could take immediately to begin to address these problems. The Inquiry report also provides a platform and opportunity to ensure that inclusion is in future at the heart of childcare policy. The opportunity is one we believe the government must take.