Disabled children missing out on the chance to play

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More than half of disabled children have been turned away by early years settings, according to a new report.


Lord Blunkett: 'All too often the parents of children with multiple needs point to barriers they face in accessing and enjoying play.'

Findings from a three-month public inquiry into play opportunities for disabled children under five, chaired by former education and employment secretary David Blunkett, highlight how disabled children with multiple needs often face barriers to play.

Nine out of ten parents that submitted evidence to the inquiry felt that their disabled child misses out on play opportunities, and eight out of ten parents said it was difficult to access mainstream play groups and local play opportunities.

Two hundred parents of disabled children contributed to the inquiry, alongside 150 other play professionals, academics and policymakers.

The inquiry report by the national deafblind charity Sense found that despite clear duties in the Equality Act 2010, 51 per cent of children have been intentionally excluded from play opportunities by play providers.

Many parents also said that they had experienced negative attitudes towards their child from other parents and most considered this to be the most significant barrier to accessing mainstream play.

Lord Blunkett, who is launching the report in Parliament today, said, ‘We know that play is vitally important for children with multiple needs and their families, bringing a wide range of developmental and emotional benefits. However, our inquiry found that all too often the parents of children with multiple-needs point to barriers they face in accessing and enjoying play.

‘It means that disabled children don’t have the same chance to form friendships, and parents are prevented from taking a break from caring. Both disabled children and their parents are excluded from their own communities.

‘I know that there is strong support across the political spectrum for addressing the findings of this report, and I look forward to working with colleagues from all parties to achieve real change for parents and families across the nation.’

Sense plans to use the findings to campaign for changes to the way play services are designed and run, with a series of toolkits for parents, providers, and play commissioners.

Richard Kramer, the charity’s deputy chief executive, said, ‘We hope that local and national policymakers, as well as play professionals, reflect on today’s recommendations and make the necessary changes that will make access to play a reality for all children.

The report’s key recommendations for play providers are:

  • Settings should ensure that play staff have received training on multiple needs and disability to help improve the way they support children and families. This should include responding to medical needs, communicating with children with specialist communication needs, and personal care. The training should also enable them to create an environment and ethos which is inclusive and developmentally appropriate.
  • Where possible, treatments and therapeutic interventions should be delivered through play.
  • Every play setting should have a play policy statement which stresses the inclusion of every child.
  • Every play setting should have a play policy statement which stresses the inclusion of every child.
  • Settings should plan carefully prior to the admission of every child in order to ensure their needs are met and that they will be welcomed and understood by other parents, children and both professional staff and volunteers.
  • Voluntary sector organisations should do more to share their significant experience of supporting children with specific impairments and multiple needs with public and private play settings. This could include offering training and toolkits on inclusive play.


Case study

Lesley Rogers’ daughter Ruby was born with CHARGE syndrome, a rare genetic condition that left her deafblind and with multiple needs.

Access to Portage when Ruby was an infant enabled the family to play with their daughter, and through the use of pictures and toys she learnt basic sign language – communication skills essential to her development. It was at nursery age, though, when Portage stopped, that the parents realised the difficulties they would face in accessing suitable play opportunities for their daughter.

Lesley says, ‘There just aren’t enough places that are accommodating to children with multiple needs. From the very beginning we have struggled to find appropriate play opportunities for Ruby.

‘From play groups to leisure centres and play parks, every activity has to be checked so that it’s appropriate beforehand, and, if it’s not, I have to ask for adaptations – and if those can’t be made, and often they can’t, Ruby will miss out.’

'At regular toddler groups I often felt vulnerable and isolated. Parents at mainstream settings can sometimes be pretty ignorant and insensitive, and I didn’t want to keep explaining Ruby’s condition to other people. I wanted to be in an environment where people understood my situation and were respectful.’

'Because of this experience Lesley felt more comfortable in a specialist setting so started attending a weekly pre-school group called Sparkles, run by Sense. The sessions focus onsinging, socialising and sensory fun. Lesley says, ‘It was a lifeline. You didn’t need to explain to anybody what was wrong; if you came along with a feeding pump and a suction machine, it was accepted. I found everything I needed there: support from other parents and expert knowledge from staff.’

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