Summer holiday services failing children with learning disabilities

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Local government cuts have stranded children with learning disabilities without effective access to services during the school holidays, according to a survey by charity Mencap.

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Holiday services leaving families in the lurch

Four out of five parents with such children struggle because of a shortage of flexible services.

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said it was ‘unacceptable’ that local authorities are not providing enough support and is urging the Government to tackle the problem with investment.

Almost half of those surveyed said childcare was an issue over summer months, with 56 per cent having trouble accessing respite such as short breaks.

Portage, a home visiting educational service, felt beyond reach for 7 per cent of respondents.

Currently, parents of disadvantaged children aged two, and all 3- and 4-year-olds are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week.

Despite this, just 40 per cent of parents of children with a learning disability say their child is able to access the full amount.

In addition, just 21 per cent of local authorities reported having sufficient childcare for disabled children.

Parent Sharon Preece described a ‘drastic drop’ in services during the holidays, directly impacting her son Sam’s development.

‘Not only have services been cut back, the ones that are left have increased in cost,’ said Ms Preece, who is finding costs challenging after having to give up work to look after her son.

‘It’s also difficult if you run into any problems because the local services are so stretched.

‘Everyone goes on holiday and you’re very much left on your own.

‘Sam is much calmer if we can keep him busy and in a structured environment, so a lack of services has a direct impact on him.

‘We’ve been on some great activities in the past that we would never have been able to afford if they hadn’t been subsidised.

‘But if all that’s going to stop, then we will lose that that quality time that other families take for granted.’

Mencap is calling on the Government and local authorities to establish a more flexible approach to childcare and short break services for families of children with a learning disability. 

Ms Tregelles, said many parents can be brought to breaking point by juggling work with their children’s round-the-clock care needs.

Appropriate services are a ‘lifeline’ for many families, said the chief executive.

‘But, due to a lack of sufficient provision from local authorities and inflexible provision of the services that are available, we are seeing many families are unable to access services and are often left to struggle alone.

‘It is unacceptable that, despite obligations, yet again local authorities are still not doing enough to help families who are being pushed into moments of crisis.

‘This needs to change.

;We need to invest in these vital services and ensure equal access to them for children with a learning disability as they can be the difference between families reaching breaking point or not.’ 

 Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said he shared these concerns.

Mr Leitch added, ‘Many childcare providers do not receive the support - both financial and practical - needed to deliver the one-to-one quality care that children with additional needs require, leaving families struggling to access suitable care both during the holidays and throughout the rest of the year. 

‘Current government proposals to increase the funding available to support children with special educational needs and disabilities are undoubtedly positive, but these must be part of a comprehensive, co-ordinated system of reforms across the whole care and education system if they are going to have a real impact on those children and families most in need.’

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