Parents are speaking out at the start of half-term holidays about their struggle to find youth clubs and play groups that will include their disabled children.
Four in ten parents (38%) said their disabled children 'rarely' or 'never' have the opportunity to socialise and mix with children who are not disabled.
And the results of the survey of over 500 parents[i], conducted by the disability charity Scope, suggest that improving the attitudes and confidence of staff and organisers is what would make groups and activities more inclusive for disabled children.
Parents said that their experiences of being turned away from clubs left them and their children feeling isolated and desperate.
“Parents even in this day and age seem to think my son is a leper with a contagious disease, yet he has cerebral palsy.” Helen, Surbiton
“I started taking my son to football club. The organisers and other parents were really unfriendly and not understanding at all, and it made me feel angry and depressed and my son feel stressed.” Victoria, Manchester
The survey reveals that:
- 8 in 10 (77%) parents have been unable to access youth clubs, play groups and other local activities for their disabled son or daughter, or haven't even tried
- 7 in 10 (72%) parents said that more positive attitudes and better understanding of disability amongst staff and organisers would enable their child to be included
- When asked what would make services more inclusive, only 3 in 10 (35%) of those surveyed said 'accessible venues'
- Of parents whose disabled child was not able to access a service, youth clubs (41%), sports clubs (51%), leisure centres (38%) and play groups (26%) were all singled out as not being inclusive
- Just 1 in 10 parents felt that staff and organisers "already had the confidence and expertise to make sure that their disabled child was included and welcomed to local groups and activities"
Mumsnet, the UK's biggest website for parents, and the charity Scope, are calling on local councils to do more to make local children's provision, like leisure activities, groups and play centres, inclusive of disabled children and their families.
As part of the new Children Families Bill, the Government is updating guidance for councils on this issue.
Mumsnet and Scope say that the Government needs to set the tone for a culture change in local groups and centres, so they are accessible and inclusive for all children and families.
Richard Hawkes, CEO of Scope, said:
“We hear from parents across the country whose children have been turned away from clubs and activities in their area, just because they're disabled.
Unwelcoming attitudes, and lack of knowledge among staff and organisers, can lead to disabled children and their families feeling isolated and excluded from community life.
It isn't right that many disabled children and young people never have the opportunity to socialise and play with other children in their area.
We need to see a culture change in how local groups and centres are planned and run, so that they are open to all children and families.”
Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet, said:
“One of the motivations for our This Is My Child campaign is to show people that the social inclusion of children with additional needs is crucial to their quality of life.
With a bit of organisation and planning, disabled children can happily take part in all kinds of extra-curricular activities. There's almost never a good reason to turn someone away, but parents who responded to the survey told us that their child can't attend local clubs.
The government and local councils need to make it clear to those who run these clubs that they have a responsibility to allow disabled children to live their lives to the full. We can't all be experts on the many aspects of disability, but everybody can make an effort to be friendly and inclusive.”
Parents highlighted that the attitudes of staff and organisers were crucial in determining whether their disabled child was included.
Helen, a mother from Bristol said:
“In some situations my child has been looked at and treated like he is contagious, and feared by children and adults. I have confronted people in the past about their negative attitudes and comments about my son - usually successfully but sometimes sadly not.
On the other side of that I have met some wonderful people, adults and children, who have been very open and understanding, and willing to let my son participate with them. It all depends on that person and their bias.”
[i] Scope ran an online survey of Mumsnet users, all of whom are parents of disabled children, across two weeks in January and February 2014. 550 parents responded to the survey. There were some missing responses on select questions but the baseline of valid responses to select questions did not drop below 419.