Parliamentary inquiry highlights childcare crisis for disabled children

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Four in ten parents of disabled three- and four-year-olds are unable to access their right to 15-hours of childcare, an investigation has found.

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Many parents of disabled children struggle to find childcare despite their legal rights

Nearly all of the parents questioned (86 per cent) also said that they paid more than the average for childcare and around three-quarters of parents had cut their working hours or left jobs because of problems accessing appropriate childcare.

Parents of disabled children ‘consistently’ highlighted the lack of suitable childcare available. This is even more acute for children with complex needs and health conditions, older children, those with challenging behaviour and children requiring specialist support to access childcare settings.

More than 1,200 parent carers and 35 organisations contributed to the inquiry, carried out by a cross-party group of MPs and peers.

The report concluded that, 'The inquiry has put beyond doubt the presence of failures which fly in the face of the intent of the statutory duties, equalities legislation and the aspiration of an inclusive childcare system.'

It calls for all political parties to commit to developing a coherent policy to improve access to affordable, accessible and appropriate childcare for all children. 

Recommendations include:

  • a cross-party departmental review of funding to identify where support must be improved to meet the extra costs of childcare and barriers to access, followed by pilots to trial flexible provision;
  • a requirement for all local authorities to publish clear information for parents and providers on access to childcare inclusion support;
  • writing to all local authorities to make it clear that all eligible disabled children at two, three and four are entitled to 15 hours of free early education and clarify parents' right to redress.

Robert Buckland MP, co-chair of the inquiry said families with disabled children had told them there was a childcare crisis.

‘This is despite huge progress in making childcare more affordable and improving choice for other families,’ he said.

‘Piecemeal policies over a decade have led to confusion among local authorities and childcare providers about their duties to provide childcare for disabled children. We need one coherent policy to improve access to childcare for disabled children and this is the time to take action. Ahead of the next general election all political parties must commit to tackling the lack of affordable and quality childcare for disabled children once and for all.’

 

Cost and availability

Thirty-eight per cent of parents reported paying £12-£14 an hour for childcare, with 5 per cent of parents paying as much as £20 an hour.

The report highlights the lack of funding available for both parents and providers to support the extra costs of one-to-one support for disabled children.

There was confusion among local authorities, nurseries and schools about what their duties are in providing childcare for disabled children, it said.

One parent Katherine said, ‘Even now at age three, we have only managed to secure six hours a week at nursery during term-time only. He needs one-to-one support while at nursery and this is all the local authority says they can provide. This seems to me to breach the Equality Act, in that children without additional needs are entitled to 15 hours a week childcare.’

Co-chair Pat Glass MP said she had been touched by parents' stories 'about their struggles to find nurseries that would accept their children and being turned away from mainstream nurseries simply because their child had a disability. Providers must not be able to get away with this. We’re calling on the Government to make sure that providers demonstrate what reasonable adjustments they have made for disabled children in order to receive an “Outstanding” from Ofsted.’

Children’s commissioner for England Dr Maggie Atkinson added that the findings showed that many children and young people were missing out on their right under the United Nations Convention of the rights of the child ‘to socialise with other children, play and have fun’.

The parliamentary inquiry was supported by Every Disabled Child Matters, Family and Childcare Trust, Contact a Family and Working Families.