Research by Contact a Family, the Council for Disabled Children, the Family and Childcare Trust and Mencap, has revealed that 40 per cent of families with disabled children are not accessing the full current free childcare offer of 15 hours a week, ten times more than their non-disabled peers.
High fees, a limited choice of suitable childcare and settings excluding disabled children, are all cited as reasons why many families have difficulty accessing their free childcare offer.
The survey of parents also found that around a third said they did not think childcare providers could safely care for their child or had adequately trained staff.
The charities are concerned that Government plans to partly off-set tax credits cuts with expanded free childcare from 2017, may not work for these families because so many are unable to access the free entitlement.
Speaking on behalf of the group of charities, Amanda Batten CEO of Contact a Family, said that high quality, flexible childcare ‘helps children’s educational and social development’ and enables parents to maintain paid employment.
But she added, ‘This remains a pipe dream for many families with disabled children. Parents tell us they are often asked to pay excessively high fees and the choice of suitable settings is limited at best. At the same time there is a significant shortfall of the knowledge and skills needed to provide quality care and education to disabled children in the childcare and early years’ workforce.’
The charities’ findings, published in a report, Levelling the playing field: Equal access to childcare for disabled children: One year update, details some of the challenges faced by families with disabled children and their efforts to access the current childcare offer.
Of the parents who responded to the survey, a quarter said that the nursery or childcarer refused a place or excluded their child because of their disability or special education needs.
Nearly half said that the provider could not meet their child’s additional needs, while 47 percent said that their child needs one-to-one care or additional support which was not available or affordable.
As the Childcare Bill passes through the House of Commons, charities are calling on the Government to make a proportionate investment to improve access to high quality pre-school childcare for disabled children, and ensure that these children and their families benefit from the new 30 hour offer.