LAs need to improve habilitation services for children with vision impairment

Post date: 
Monday, 14 March 2016

A review of habilitation services for children and young people with vision impairment in England reveals that services are “patchy” and needs are not being met. Ella High, Editor of Insight Online, reports.

In England more than 25,000 children and young people with vision impairment (VI) receive support from their local authority (LA).
Blind Children UK conducted research in March 2015 to find out how many children and young people with VI are accessing habilitation, the range of services offered and the factors that affect LAs abilities to deliver comprehensive habilitation services. A Freedom of Information request was sent to 152 asking them about their habilitation services in the preceding six months.
Habilitation, involves helping children and young people develop their personal mobility, navigation and independent living skills which can have a significant positive impact on their learning, confidence and wellbeing. Habilitation is essential to enable them access to the same opportunities as their sighted peers.
Many LAs are providing good quality habilitation to children with VI, however there is a patchwork of habilitation services across England. Only 17 per cent of children with VI received habilitation in the six months covered by the research. This varies across the country from 64 to just 2 per cent. Blind Children UK is concerned that low figures in many areas mean that children are missing out on essential habilitation, when they need it most.

“There is a difference though between what we are obliged to do, which we are able to do, and what we would like to do.”(Borough Council)

Key factors behind these figures according to respondents included:
  • A limited number of staff with habilitation qualifications
  • Confusion on referral routes and which agencies fund habilitation, and
  • Lack of awareness on habilitation and its benefits.
Blind Children UK conducted further research interviews with a number of authorities, some saying that they are moving away from a ‘local’ approach of dealing with habilitation by combining resources with neighbouring local authorities to ensure that they are able to deliver quality services.
Blind Children UK are calling on the Government to provide support through:
  • Raising awareness about what habilitation is and its benefits
  • Working with Health Education England to supporting more Habilitation Specialist training places, and
  • Providing financial support to local authorities to deliver habilitation training.
Blind Children UK chief executive Richard Leaman said: “Every child with sight loss deserves the opportunity to fulfil their potential as adults. Local authorities are under a great deal of pressure on a number of fronts, but it cannot be right that a child who is blind may or may not receive this life-changing support depending on where they live in England.
“It’s clear that in many cases, local authorities would like to do more, but they face a number of challenges. We’re calling on the Government to make more money available to recruit specialists and more training places for specialist staff must be created.”

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