Robert Buckland MP and Pat Glass MP: Levelling the playing field
Since launching our independent Parliamentary inquiry looking at childcare for disabled children in May, we have read and heard a great deal of evidence from parents and young people about their experiences. Although sometimes inspirational and uplifting, many accounts have been moving and some even harrowing.
Childcare is a crucial public service that enables disabled children to participate in their community and access opportunities to be included in activities outside of the school system – as well as for parents to stay or move into employment.
The picture painted of the current childcare landscape for disabled children and young people has been disquieting, and the struggle many families with disabled children go through to get the same opportunities as everyone else has been shocking.
Our findings are set out in our report
The Parliamentary Inquiry into Childcare for Disabled Children: Levelling the Playing Field for Parents with Disabled Childrenand can be read online
here. Having brought all the evidence together, there are significant problems relating to key issues of affordability, quality and access.
Parents with disabled children are often charged higher fees, with some being asked to pay extortionate amounts for childcare. The knock-on effect of this has been to force a number of parents to give up work as they quite simply cannot afford the childcare costs, and there is no extra funding available to provide much needed support.
A third of parents with a disabled child also told us that the lack of trained staff, combined with the inadequacy of necessary equipment, made many settings inappropriate for children with additional needs. The providers we heard from also voiced concerns that Ofsted inspectors do not have the right training to properly evaluate the quality of settings and make recommendations for improvement.
Finally, 92% of parents said that finding childcare for a disabled child is more difficult than for a non-disabled child. We heard that mainstream provision is often not inclusive due to a poor understanding of the reasonable adjustments requirements and the complete absence of transparent admissions process for nurseries and childcare schemes. We were told that parents of disabled children are often left to fend for themselves and negotiate directly with providers and local authorities. The uncertainty and anxiety felt by parents came up again and again.
Our inquiry has given us a greater understanding of a system that works against parents with disabled children.
We have set out a number of steps that the Government should take to help families with disabled children to access the right childcare. Most importantly, we want to see a programme to improve childcare for disabled children. This programme should be long term and begin with steps to review and identify the scope of the problems families face and the extent of the gaps that must be addressed. We have also recommended a number of subsequent steps including piloting new models of financial support for parents, improving training standards for the early years workforce, and requiring more of providers to include children with disabilities whilst ensuring they receive the support they need to do so.
We believe that these steps, along with a number of other recommendations we make in the report, will help to ensure much needed inclusivity in the childcare market, and will help to level the playing field for parents with disabled children.
Robert Buckland is the Conservative MP for South Swindon. Pat Glass is the Labour MP for North West Durham.