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Childcare provision

Please be aware that this section contains information prepared in 2009 and may now be out of date. Some links may no longer work. We are reviewing this section.


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Disabled children can face considerable difficulties in accessing suitable and affordable childcare because of a lack of suitable available places and the high costs of existing places. This has multiple implications for families, including siblings, as the family becomes disproportionately home-based, increasing social exclusion and affecting income.
There is a particular shortage of good quality, affordable childminders available to disabled children because fewer childminders are trained in meeting disabled children’s needs, and because such childminders may also earn less as they can look after fewer children at a time.

The Government launched an action plan in 2004 to support local authorities and their partners deliver the Ten Year Strategy for Childcare: Choice for parents, the best start for children. This sets out four key themes:

•    Choice and flexibility: parents to have greater choice about balancing work and family life.
•    Availability: for all families with children aged up to 14 who need it.
•    Quality: high-quality provision with a highly skilled childcare and early years workforce.
•    Affordability: families to be able to afford flexible, high quality childcare that is appropriate for their needs.

This plan proposed the introduction of key workers and Family Service Plans to help facilitate both earlier discussions with parents of disabled children about their childcare needs and the provision of information, so they can access the childcare arrangements and early years support that meet their particular needs.

Childcare Sufficiency Duty

From 1 April 2008 local authorities have had a statutory duty under Section 6 of the Childcare Act 2006 to secure sufficient childcare to meet the needs of working parents in their area. The Act requires authorities to pay particular attention to the needs of families of disabled children when addressing this duty. To do this they need to facilitate and shape local childcare markets which are responsive to parents’ needs and provide sufficient high-quality, accessible and sustainable childcare.

To help local authorities prepare to meet this duty fully, the Childcare Act required local authorities to undertake Childcare Sufficiency Assessments from April 2007 to measure the demand for and supply of childcare within each local area, and plan how to address any gaps in the market.

The Childcare Act also places a duty on local authorities to provide information, advice and assistance to parents of children and young people up to 20 years old, particularly the parents of disabled children, on childcare and other services.

The Government has recognised the particular difficulties that the families of disabled children face in sourcing appropriate and affordable childcare. Consequently, it has allocated £35 million, as part of its Aiming High for Disabled Children programme, to improving childcare provision for families with disabled children. From September 2008 funding has been provided in 10 pilot areas for Disabled Children’s Access to Childcare (DCATCH) projects which will be replicated across the country if successful. These projects include:

•    New centres of excellence for disabled children in children’s centres next to special schools, acting as hubs for disabled children’s services.
•    New specialist training for childminders and nursery workers on how to care for and educated disabled children.
•    A network of specialist childminders to make it easier for parents to find flexible childcare that meets their needs (including overnight and home care) and to help disabled children to access play and leisure activities in their own communities.
•    Recruiting parent champions for BME disabled children.
•    Formalised peer to peer support for parents.

These pilots will focus on childcare for those disabled children who are currently least likely to be able to access services, including older children and children with complex needs. The main issues to be addressed include:

•    the shortage of childcare places for disabled children,
•    shortage of breakfast/after school places and holiday clubs,
•    lack of flexibility for caring for able bodied and disabled children at the same time,
•    lack of appropriately skilled staff, including special educational needs coordinators,
•    highs costs of childcare that aren’t taken into account by the Disability Living Allowance, and
•    the late assessments of children’s disabilities.

As well as facilitating parental employment, the provision of high quality childcare may help the development of disabled children through contact with their peers which they may otherwise lack. It may also facilitate their entry and inclusion in school and reduce family stress, giving carers a break from their caring responsibilities.

By 2011 it is expected that pilot projects will be underway in a large number of local authorities, building upon positive outcomes identified from earlier pilots.

Extending Inclusion is an additional project seeking to identify both the barriers and the solutions that universal services such as extended schools and children’s centres are exploring to ensure that disabled children have the same access to these opportunities as other children.

The manual, written by the Council for Disabled Children and published by the DCSF, identifies good practice in overcoming such barriers. It offers guidance on auditing current take-up of services by disabled children, looks at identifying barriers to such take-up, taking account of the views of service users, develops solutions and suggests how to put these into practice effectively.

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Find childcare organisations

Link to Aiming High for Disabled Children childcare section

Find out which local authorities are DCATCH pilots from the DCSF press release:

Choice for Parents, the best start for children: a Ten Year Strategy for Childcare (pdf file of Government report from 2004)

Guidance for local authorities in implementing the Ten Year Strategy for Childcare was published in 2005

A useful page identifying emerging local authority practice on how to implement the 2006 Childcare Act

Extending Inclusion. Access for disabled children to extended schools and children’s centres: a development manual. Philippa Stobbs, Council for Disabled Children

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Ten Year Strategy for Childcare

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