Hi everyone. I’m James and I lead Mencap’s policy work on children, young people and families, covering the early years, education, children’s social care and social security parent support.
I’ve been working for Mencap on for more than 6 years now and, even in that time, a lot has changed: a reorganisation of the NHS, 2 welfare reform Acts, changes to the way education is delivered and a new special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system, to name but a few. All of these changes affect people with a learning disability and their families in one way or another.
But perhaps the greatest change has been around the issue of childcare. It’s long been a political football; a chance for governments to show that they support families. And this has spawned a whole new, and potentially more affordable, childcare system with the stated aim of reducing the costs that families have to fork out on childcare for their children. By the end of the last parliament, government spending on childcare support was £5 billion a year and a further £1 billion a year has been pledged until 2020.
The most recent of these changes came through the Childcare Act 2016 which introduced an additional 15 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4 year old children of ‘working parents’. This is on top of the 15 hours of free early education that families of all 3 and 4 year olds can already receive. This latest change is due to come into force nationally from September 2017.
These things are all useful to bear in mind when looking for childcare for your child. But what does this all mean for children with a learning disability?
Well, we know that disabled children struggle more to access childcare, either because settings aren’t equipped to meet their needs, or because it tends to cost families more for a childcare place (an average of over £5 an hour, in fact!). This is in spite of laws that ensure that children with a learning disability have the right to receive childcare and that childcare providers must not deny disabled children access to childcare because they are disabled.
This means that, while these new measures are welcome, families of children with a learning disability still suffer a severe disadvantage in the childcare system.
I’m here to answer any questions you have about childcare, or, indeed, wider early support for children with a learning disability. You may have a burning question about the new childcare reforms coming in next year; you might want to know more about your legal rights; you might just want to find out what support you and your child can get.
Either way, I’ll be here until the end of February, so now’s your chance to ask that question you’ve always wondered about!