Charities fear government plans to double free childcare won’t go far enough to help families with disabled children hit by tax credit cuts

New research published yesterday, 23rd November, by a group of leading charities shows that 40 per cent of families with disabled children are not accessing the full current free childcare offer of 15 hours a week – ten times more than families with non disabled children.

The charities are concerned that government plans to partly off-set tax credits cuts with expanded free childcare from 2017, may not work for these families because so many are unable to access free childcare, and are calling on the government to commit to funding to cover the extra costs of childcare for disabled children.

A survey of parents who care for young disabled children by Contact a Family, The Council for Disabled Children, The Family and Childcare Trust and Mencap reveals that of the families who say they aren’t taking up the full 15 hour entitlement:

  • Over a third (38%) said it was because they did not think the childcare provider could care for their child safely
  • 30% did not think the childcare provider had adequately trained staff
  • A quarter said that the nursery or child-carer refused a place or excluded their child because of their disability or special     education needs.

And of those whose child was refused a childcare place or excluded:

  • Nearly half (49%) said the childcare provider could not meet their child’s additional needs
  • 47% said their child needs, 1:1 care or other additional support which was not available or affordable

Evidence suggests that the current entitlement of 15 hours a week free childcare is insufficiently funded and the charities believe this is already having a huge impact on children with disabilities because childcare for them costs more. Unless the long standing childcare problems highlighted by the survey are tackled say the charities, government plans to partly offset tax credit cuts with expanded free childcare could push many families with disabled children further into poverty. As a result, they are calling on MPs to act now to improve childcare for families with disabled children ahead of the 2nd reading of the Childcare Bill later this week (the law introducing an expansion of free childcare offer to 30 hours).

Amanda Batten CEO of Contact a Family and speaking on behalf of the group of charities says: “When tax credits are introduced we are worried that many families with disabled children will not be able to take up their free childcare entitlement and increase their hours of work.  The government has repeatedly suggested that free early years’ childcare is designed to partly offset tax credits cuts so they must make good on this promise for young disabled children.

“High quality, flexible childcare helps children’s educational and social development and enables parents to maintain paid employment. But this remains a pipe dream for many families with disabled children. Parents tell us they are often asked to pay excessively high fees and the choice of suitable settings is limited at best. At the same time there is a significant shortfall of the knowledge and skills needed to provide quality care and education to disabled children in the childcare and early years’ workforce. The second reading of the Childcare Bill next week provides a golden opportunity for government to improve the bill so that childcare no longer remains an insurmountable struggle for families with disabled children.”

The charities’ findings are published in a report, Levelling the playing field: Equal access to childcare for disabled children: One year update, to coincide with the 2nd reading of Childcare Bill in the House of Commons on 19th November. The report details some of the challenges faced by families with disabled children and their efforts to access the current childcare offer.

Siobhan Bain from Southwark is mum to 3 year old Fintan who has a variety of undiagnosed disorders and global development delay. She says: “I have been discouraged by many of the attitudes that I have encountered while trying to find suitable childcare for Fintan. He has been rejected outright by certain childcare providers as soon as his additional needs were mentioned. Others have been unable to seek funding for the 1:1 care Fintan requires.

“I currently pay for a full time nanny for my children rather than take up the government’s offer of 15 hours free childcare per week due to a lack of suitable facilities in my local area… I am deeply saddened by the fact that many other parents of children with additional needs will be kept out of work due to lack of access to viable and affordable childcare facilities. No attempt has been made to address the glaring gap in provision of wraparound care and pre-school care for disabled children such as Fintan.”

Karen Holland from Islington has a five year old daughter Keira with Down Syndrome and says: “When Keira was 2 I registered at the same children’s centre that my two older daughter’s had attended several years previously. I was very disappointed with the level of care they provided for Keira and felt that the staff as a whole were poorly trained regarding disability issues and ill- equipped to cope with my daughter’s additional needs.

“Unfortunately the childcare provider was unwilling to provide the 1-1 care my daughter needed, citing high costs of extra staffing. And while I requested several times that they apply for top up finding from the local authority to do this, it was never followed through. The only solution I was offered was to find another childminder that could better cater for Keira’s needs. I’ve been unable to get back to work since Keira was born, due to her medical needs and my lack of confidence in the childcare services in my local area.”

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