Disabled children missing out on play vital to their development

Post date: 
Monday, 14 March 2016
Lord Blunkett

A new report by Sense reveals that disabled children are missing out on play opportunities that are vital to their emotional, social and physical development.

The report follows a three month examination of play opportunities for disabled children aged 0-5 with multiple needs in England and Wales.
A lack of government attention, insufficient funding at a local level and negative attitudes towards disabled children and their families are all barriers highlighted.

Key findings from the report

  • 92 per cent of parents felt that their child did not have the same opportunities to play as their non-disabled peers, and 81 per cent of parents reported difficulties in accessing mainstream play groups and local play opportunities.
  • 51 per cent of children had been turned away from play settings by providers, failing to meet their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010.
  • 95 per cent of parents said that parents of children with multiple-needs require support to find ways to play with their children. 
  • Majority of parents had experienced negative attitudes towards their child from other parents and most considered this to be the most significant barrier to accessing mainstream play.
  • 40 per cent of parents said that additional financial costs was a major barrier to accessing play opportunities
  • 63 per cent of parents said they didn’t have enough information on accessible play opportunities in their area, and word of mouth is commonly used in place of official sources of information.

Key recommendations from the report

National policy

  • Greater investment in play as part of early years funding to support play in the home and in mainstream services.
  • Developmental play services such as Portage should become a statutory service for disabled children under the age of two, with an increased emphasis on children with multiple needs.
  • Play should be a key strand of the Government’s policy on parenting and should be an explicit part of government-funded parenting classes.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission should investigate the exclusion of children with multiple needs from mainstream play settings, and take action to enforce the Equality Act 2010.

Local policy

  • Local authorities should be required to take action, as necessary, against settings which intentionally exclude disabled children and fail to meet their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010.
  • Local authorities should take a lead on increasing awareness and understanding of the general public and other parents about disabled children. This could be centrally funded but locally delivered.
  • Local authorities should consider whether there could be a modest retraining of existing health professionals to enable them to provide the support needed to help families of children with multiple needs to play.
  • Local authorities should provide easily-accessible information for parents to help them to find out about existing play and support services. 

Play settings

  • Settings should ensure that play staff have received training on disability to help improve the way they support children and families. This should include responding to medical needs and communicating with children with specialist communication needs. The training should also enable them to create an environment and ethos which is inclusive and developmentally appropriate. 
  • Every play setting should have a play policy statement which stresses the inclusion of every child.
  • Settings should plan carefully prior to the admission of every child in order to ensure their needs are met and that they will be welcomed and understood by other parents and their children.
  • Voluntary sector organisations should do more to share their significant experience of supporting children with specific impairments and multiple needs with public and private play settings. This could include offering training and toolkits on inclusive play. 
Chair of the Play Inquiry, Lord Blunkett, said: “We know that play is vitally important for children with multiple needs and their families, bringing a wide range of developmental and emotional benefits. However, our inquiry found that all too often the parents of children with multiple-needs point to barriers they face in accessing and enjoying play. It means that disabled children don’t have the same chance to form friendships, and parents are prevented from taking a break from caring. Both disabled children and their parents are excluded from their own communities.”
Sense Deputy CEO, Richard Kramer, said: “We hope that local and national policymakers, as well as play professionals, reflect on today’s recommendations, and make the necessary changes that will make access to play a reality for all children.”
Sense will use the findings to campaign for changes to the way play services are designed and delivered. They also plan to produce a series of toolkits for parents, providers and commissioners of play.

Further information

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