By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer
Hannah is mother to seven-year-old Rosy, who has autism and learning difficulties. Hannah says that appropriate, affordable childcare is a real problem in her area, and is getting worse:
“There is simply not enough childcare that is appropriate for children with special needs. You can’t share pick-ups and play-dates after school, or exchange childcare in the way that you can with children who do not have special needs or disabilities. I would like Rosy to be included in a mainstream after-school club or holiday play scheme, so that she can go with her brother who does not have special needs. But I have to find private provision prepared to take Rosy, and then look for a carer to go with her, which makes it expensive.”
Sadly, the problems faced by Hannah are all too common in Britain today. And, despite the growing political and public debate around childcare – in recent months, barely a week has gone by without the announcement of new research or survey findings on the subject – the childcare needs of parents of disabled children has received almost no attention. Yet we know that:
- 66 per cent of parents surveyed have paid more for childcare for disabled children than for non-disabled children.
- Parents with disabled children report paying two to three times as much as the standard hourly childcare rate – up to £20 per hour – compared to a national average of £4.25 for a child aged two to four years old.
- Only 28 per cent of local authorities in England say they have enough childcare for disabled children.
- Just 40 per cent of parents of disabled children believed that childcare providers in their area could cater for their child’s condition.
No wonder then, that only 16 per cent of mothers of a disabled child are in paid work, compared to more than 60 per cent of mothers generally. And that families with a disabled child are 2.5 times more likely to have no parent working for more than 16 hours per week. In the words of Sarah, mother to “a lovely non-toddling toddler with an undiagnosed genetic condition”:
“I worked long and hard to get a career that I care about. It enabled me to give my son financial stability and a plan for the future. It enabled me to have time away from the immense responsibility of being a ‘carer’. It gave me a chance to miss him and remind me how very precious our time together is. But despite an epic battle to rival Waterloo, I have had to leave my job. Why? Because there was absolutely zero affordable childcare available to me, even on a three day per week basis. This is purely because of my son’s disabilities.”
As Sarah concludes, this is “just not right”. But it’s also a false economy. Britain needs women like Sarah to remain in the labour market if we are to recover from the worst economic recession in living memory. And for that to happen, parents like Sarah and Hannah need local access to childcare that is appropriate, affordable, and of good quality. Such childcare helps children form new friendships, supports participation and good educational outcomes, and helps parents to balance caring, their own well-being, and work.
That’s why MPs Robert Buckland and Pat Glass have just launched an independent Parliamentary Inquiry, to shine a spotlight on the problems faced by families with disabled children, and to ensure that the issue of childcare for disabled children becomes part of the on-going political and public debate about childcare more generally.
Robert and Pat know, from their own experience, how disabled children and their families benefit when services are inclusive and meet their needs. And they know how important it is that children with additional needs are well-served by childcare provision going into the future.
The Inquiry is supported by Contact a Family, Every Disabled Child Matters, the Family & Childcare Trust, and Working Families, and welcomes evidence from families, professionals, and stakeholder organisations. It is expected to report by the end of July – that is, in time to feed into the party manifestos for the General Election in May 2015. You can find out more, including details of how to submit evidence (by 9 June), on the Inquiry’s website.
The launch of the Inquiry has already sparked several fabulous posts by blogging parents of a disabled child. MrBoosMum writes:
“Let’s make ourselves heard in this Inquiry. Let’s tweet and write to our MPs. Let’s complete the survey. We have evidence aplenty. We deserve to be listened to, because our kids deserve to be heard and seen and accepted. Because inclusion should be a reality rather than an aspiration.”
Hear hear to that. And Sarah – already quoted above – says in her latest post:
“This Inquiry is our chance to speak up and be heard. Our chance to bring about change. So let’s make it count. Let’s make sure that the next generation of parents stepping into our already challenging shoes are not faced by the same frustration, financial fears and inequality.”
But I’m going to end with the words of mother and blogger Itssmallsworld, who speaks for tens of thousands of parents when she says:
“We want to work, we want to be able to afford to work, we would like to contribute. We have years of experience stored up to be used. We have something to give. Let us. Enable us. Because the value you will gain from us – emotionally, financially – has got to, just got to, outweigh the costs – emotional, financial – of neglecting us.”