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Supporting parents to find quality childcare

Any parent looking for childcare – either for pre-schoolers or for wraparound care for school-aged children – faces a challenge. Finding the right care is often difficult, and that is quite separate from the issue of cost.

Image: Two young boys, playing in toy cars and smiling.

Unsurprisingly, the challenge can be even greater for parents of children with vision impairment. Karen McCracken, from Worcestershire, has opted for a mix of nursery and family care for her two-year-old daughter, explaining: “I did ring childminders, and several of them said "it’s fine", but then we got into all the issues of what she can and can’t do and it wasn’t encouraging.”

Karen didn’t find it straightforward getting funding for one-to-one support either. “The nursery won’t have her without that, so unless that can be provided I might as well not have my free provision.”

The new tax free childcare scheme launching in autumn 2015 makes extra provision for parents of disabled children. Some parents could receive up to £2,000 towards childcare costs. This is welcome news for parents who don’t already get funding help from tax credits or Universal Credit.

However, that doesn’t tackle the central issue of finding appropriate childcare. The latest Parliamentary Inquiry Into Childcare For Disabled Children acknowledges this, making its first recommendation that “the Government should develop a cross-departmental action plan and funded programme to ensure that all disabled children and young people can access affordable, accessible and appropriate childcare”. 

So what is available to support parents – particularly those going down the non-nursery route – and the childcare providers?

Childminders and nannies

According to the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), two-fifths of its members care for at least one child with special needs. But apart from a general guide, PACEY doesn’t provide specific support for childminders looking after children with vision impairment.

SNAP Childcare is another option: it is a specialist recruitment agency for nannies and other childcarers for children with disabilities and special need. SNAP starts with a personal assessment of the family’s needs. “We’ll meet client families in the home,” explains Jade Coffey of SNAP.

“The families may know already what they want, or they may need some advice. Then we’ll write a job description; we have 17,000 people on our database and can search for potential matches, or potential candidates may come to us. We’ll bring the candidates in for interview and do the checks and everything like that, and then send the details over to the family.”

Local authority support

Some early years and/or sensory support teams also offer specialised provision for individual families. Bristol has a specific Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) whose remit includes supporting childminders – including some home visits, if required – and linking them in with the wider Portage, inclusion and sensory support teams. 

“Every family’s unique,” points out Joao Roe, who heads up the Sensory Support Service which works across Bristol and three other authorities in the south west of England. “Our role is to give information about what is available and help the family reach a decision."

“In reality I think people choose childminders who are local and whom they like; as soon as we know that they are looking for someone, we can direct them to the Early Years team, which has a list of childminders who have additional training in SEN.” Then, once a childminder is in place, they have access to the other support Roe and her colleagues can offer.

There is a similar provision in Bedford. Childminders can receive home visits from members of the Visual Impairment Team, if they are looking after a child on the team’s caseload. While this does not involve specialist training in visual impairment issues, the childminders will be shown ways to work with toys and other equipment that may suit that particular child’s vision and overall level of development.

Childminders are also welcome to bring the children in their care to the sessions for visually impaired children held at the local Child Development Centre, and to use specialist facilities like the sensory room.

Getting the fit right

Everyone involved stresses the need to find the right person to work with that child. A childminder or nanny who is an early years and child development specialist, fits in with the family and knows all about issues to do with visual impairment is hard to find. So  sometimes it’s necessary to compromise with the right person and then top up their skills as necessary.

“Sometimes a family would rather take someone who is a good fit for them but without the experience,” Coffey points out. “You won’t always find someone who ticks all the boxes.” The important thing is to make sure that the support is in place – and that the boxes will, eventually, be ticked.