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Many local authorities are not providing the information that families with disabled children need to access childcare, a new report from Family and Childcare Trust finds.

As part of their ‘Local Offer’, local authorities have a legal duty to provide information about services and support – including early education and childcare –for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in their area.

The Family and Childcare Trust’s report ‘Childcare for all: the role of the Local Offer’, funded by the Sobell Foundation, looks at the quality of information about childcare provided in all local authority’s Local Offer. The report found that the quality and scope of information and guidance available is patchy and varies significantly. Key findings include:

One third of local authorities (32 per cent) do not provide basic guidance for parents about accessing childcare for children with disabilities. Only one quarter of local authorities explain providers’ duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for children with disabilities under the Equalities Act 2010 and a paltry 16 per cent provide information for parents about how to raise concerns about a childcare provider.

Just half of local authorities (51 per cent) had a directory of childcare listings that included information from providers about their individual ‘Local Offer’, including details such as accessibility arrangements and specialist staff training.

Good quality information helps families to find childcare that works for their family, supporting parents to work and children to learn. Finding childcare for disabled children is often a real problem, making the need for good information even more important.

Parents with children with disabilities are more likely to experience problems accessing childcare: nine in ten parents with disabled children said that it was more difficult for them to find childcare than for a non-disabled child (4) and a quarter are not accessing their free early education place. (5)

Ellen Broome, Deputy Chief Executive at the Family and Childcare Trust, said:

"High quality information and guidance increases parents’ confidence that suitable childcare is available and helps them to overcome barriers to accessing a childcare place. The current lack of information adds yet another obstacle to the struggle families often face when looking for childcare that gives their children the best start in life and helps parents to work.

Our report shows that while some local authorities are providing parents with excellent information, very few provide the comprehensive information and advice parents need. Most local authorities have clear areas for improvement. Local and central government must work together to make sure that every family is able to get the information they need to access high quality childcare."

James Robinson, Policy and Strategic Lead for Children and Young People at Mencap, said:

"For many parents with a disabled child, including children with a learning disability, finding childcare can be a particular struggle. These findings highlight yet another in a long list of factors that restricts parents’ access to high quality and appropriate childcare.

"Local authorities have a legal duty to publish a Local Offer to ensure families of disabled children know about the childcare and other services on offer locally. Despite this, they are still not doing enough alleviate unnecessary strains on families. This needs to change.

Families are already heavily disadvantaged by a lack of childcare services that can meet a disabled child's needs and the higher costs of paying for the appropriate care their child requires. We need to see families better supported to access the childcare services they need. Ensuring families know about the support available, and how to access it, is vital in supporting the development of every child with a learning disability and helping families to have greater flexibility over their work."

Kate Fitch, Head of Public Policy at Sense, said,

"Sadly, these findings echo the experiences that Sense hears from the parents we support, many of whom struggle to pinpoint services near their homes that meet the needs of their disabled child.

"Access to early education and childcare is incredibly important for children with complex needs and disabilities, benefitting their physical, social, and emotional development and communication skills. There is a legal duty on local authorities to provide clear information about the different types of support services available in the area for parents with disabled children, however, all too often, families are not being correctly signposted to the support they need.

"Many families who would benefit greatly from early years support already face a number of barriers, and are not able to use the childcare opportunities they are entitled to. It is, therefore, vital that local authorities help rather than hinder parents by ensuring there is clear information and signposting to the early years settings and childcare places that families with disabled children need."

Una Summerson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Contact a Family, said:

"Contact a Family knows that finding the right childcare for your disabled child is a daunting experience, for too many it remains a distant dream. Contact a Family welcomes this research and what needs to happen to make local offers truly accessible for parent carers looking for reliable information on childcare for their disabled child."

Contact: Mark Bou Mansour, Communications and Campaigns Manager. Telephone 0207 940 7535, mobile 07538 334 772, email:

Notes to Editor:

1. Local authorities have a duty under the Children and Families Act 2014 to maintain a Local Offer. The statutory SEND Code of Practice, published under the Act, sets out information that should be included in the Local Offer.

2. The Family and Childcare Trust examined each local authority in England’s Local Offer between September and October 2016 and assessed to what extent local authorities are meeting statutory duties and good practice.

3. The Department for Education recently announced that from 2017 each childcare provider caring for a three or four year old child eligible for Disability Living Allowance and free early education would receive a Disability Access Fund Payment of £615. The Department has also announced that each local authority must maintain an ‘Inclusion Fund’ to support inclusive early years provision.

4. The report of the 2014 independent Parliamentary inquiry into childcare for disabled children, Levelling the playing field for families with disabled children and young people (Contact a Family, 2014), recommended improving the provision of information about childcare available in the Local Offer.

5. The 2015 report Findings from the research into the free childcare offer for disabled children (Contact a Family, 2015) sets out findings from a survey of parents with three and four year olds with disabilities. 25 per cent of parents were not accessing the free early education entitlement; 15 per cent were accessing the entitlement but using less than 15 hours per week and 60 per cent were accessing the full entitlement.

About the Family and Childcare Trust

The Family and Childcare Trust aims to make the UK a better place for families. We are a leading national family charity in the field of policy, research and advocacy on childcare and family issues, with over 40 years’ experience. Our on-the-ground work with parents and providers informs our research and campaigns. We focus on the early years and childcare because they are crucial to boosting children’s outcomes throughout life and supporting parents to work.