Parents of disabled children ‘at breaking point’

Charities are calling on the Government to do more to help families with disabled children.

Charities, parenting groups and disability campaigners are warning that families with disabled children are at breaking point due to a chronic shortage of support and services such as childcare in their local area.

Leading charities including Scope, The National Autistic Society, Sense, 4Children and The Family and Parenting Institute have come together as the Government prepares for the biggest shake-up of support for disabled children or those with Special Educational Needs (SEN) for 30 years.

The organisations claim that changes in the Children and Families Bill could fail to improve the lives of families that have disabled children.

Scope warns that the Bill won’t plug the shortage of local services, which leave many families at breaking point as they battle to get crucial services and support for their disabled child.

Scope has published a new report, Keep Us Close, that brings together the experiences of 600 parents of disabled children. It reveals that almost two thirds (62%) of families with disabled children are not getting critical support such as childcare or nursery places, appropriate schools, essential therapies or even healthcare in their local area.

Some 60% of families Scope spoke to describe the process of getting their child the right services they need as a “battle”. Of the families who couldn’t access services locally, 80% said it caused them stress and anxiety. Over half (51%) said it had a negative impact on their ability to work and meant they missed out on family activities like birthdays and playing together.

The draft Children and Families Bill published in September 2012 proposes to replace statements with a new joint education, health and care plans and to force councils to list what services are available for disabled children in the local area. But the charities and family and parenting groups argue that this doesn’t go far enough.

Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of disability charity Scope, said: “The Government has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end the daily struggle parents of disabled children face.

“More than 500,000 families have a disabled child. Life is tough for all families at the moment but the pressures and struggles placed on families with disabled children are pushing them to breaking point.

“The Government has recognised the issue and the appointment of a new Minister presents a huge opportunity to truly make this Bill work for all families. But at the moment, it doesn’t go far enough and won’t plug the gaps in local services that families with disabled children desperately need.

“For Scope it raises the question of whether the Government’s pledge ‘to make society more family friendly’ actually extends to those families with disabled children.

“The Government must be bolder if it wants to include families with disabled children in its pledge for a more ‘family friendly society’ and go further if it wants to genuinely relieve some of the immense pressure placed on these families.”

Scope is calling on the Government to include a ‘Provide Local Principle’ in the Children and Families Bill, to compel local authorities and agencies to genuinely consider how they can change existing services or plan and commission new services that better support disabled children in their local communities. It hopes the introduction of the principle in the Bill which goes before parliament early next year will:

– Ensure services in a local area are inclusive and accessible.

– Put a duty on local agencies to introduce new inclusive and accessible services if they don’t exist in a local area.

At the same time Scope is urging councils to work more closely with charities and disabled people when it comes to designing local services. The charity will be launching a report called Doing Services Differently at a summit for local authority Chief Executives on 16 October that argues that one way to generate greater innovation in services for families with disabled children and disabled adults is by charities, councils and disabled people’s organisations forging stronger partnerships.

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