You are here: Guide to childcare for children with special educational needs and disabilities in England

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Guide to childcare for children with special educational needs and disabilities in England

Updated: December 2017

Good quality childcare is beneficial for all children. It can play a hugely important role in your child's development, allowing them to become independent, to mix with other children and to learn new things. But choosing the right childcare can be a difficult decision for every parent, particularly if your child has a special educational need or disability (SEND).

There are laws to protect children from discrimination and improve support and access to services, play opportunities, education and information. Our guide is designed to help you know what your rights are as a parent and will cover the details about these laws.

About this guide

Our guide aims to set out what childcare and early support should be available locally in England. Our guide will provide you with your childcare options; offer tips on choosing the right childcare and guidance on what support your local authority (council), early years childcare and schools should – and in some cases must – offer you. There is a detailed section on the Education, Health and Care assessments and plans, an outline of the new 0–25 SEND Code of Practice and information on how you can challenge decisions that you are not happy with.

It also looks at the financial support available for parents of children with SEND, including help specifically for childcare costs. You will also find useful contacts and sources of further information at the end of the guide.

01 - Support from birth

Many local councils keep a register of disabled children in their area. This register (sometimes called the Disabled Children’s Register) allows them to keep up-to-date with the number of disabled children in their area and send relevant information to families, including information about childcare. It is a good idea to join this register when your child is born or when their disability becomes clear. You should speak to your health visitor, social worker or your local Family Information Service about how to do this. You can find your local Family Information Service's contact details using our Childcare Finder.

02 - What the law says

What is a special educational need (SEN) or disability?

A child has SEN if he or she has much more difficulty learning than others of the same age, or a disability that makes it hard to benefit from the facilities generally available in local schools and childcare settings.

Special education provision is additional to or different from what is usually provided for children of that age (Children and Families Act 2014).

According to the Equality Act 2010, a disability is a physical or mental impairment, which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.


Equality Act 2010 - Rights for disabled children

Schools, early years childcare settings, local councils and other organisations that provide services to your child must not discriminate against them if they are disabled, and must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that they have the same play and learning opportunities as other children.

The Equality Act 2010, the Children and Families Act 2014, and the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (covering children’s early education from 0–5) are in place to ensure that all children get the support they need, when they need it, and that all children have every opportunity to reach their potential.


Children and Families Act 2014 and SEND Code of Practice 2014

The Children and Families Act 2014 and the SEND Code of Practice 2014, introduced under this Act, aim to give children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) greater support, choice and opportunities.

The SEND Code of Practice details the responsibilities that councils, early years settings and schools in England have to support children with SEND. This includes what information they have to publish to support families. All early years childcare providers, such as nurseries and pre-schools, which offer free places to two, three or four year olds must meet the requirements of the SEND Code of Practice. These include:

  • Involving children and parents properly in decision making, ensuring that they get the information and support they need
  • Responding quickly to children’s emerging needs
  • Planning ahead and working towards positive outcomes for children
  • A focus on inclusive practice – the great majority of children with SEND are successfully included in mainstream settings
  • Better coordination between services, with new joined-up assessments and plans for children who need support from several services


The Local Offer

All councils in England are required to publish a ‘Local Offer’. This is to provide information in one place: detailing the services and activities that families can find locally and how to access them. The Local Offer will include information on:

  • Childcare options, including expertise to support children with SEND
  • Support to parents to aid children’s development at home, such as home learning programmes and Portage (see Section 05 - Support in early years)
  • Free early education places and any special arrangements for children with SEND
  • Support to help children with SEND move smoothly from nursery or a childminder to reception class at primary school
  • Health services
  • Schools
  • A range of other services available locally
  • Guidance about seeking advice from specialist services
  • Giving feedback
  • Challenging decisions and making complaints

The Local Offer should be published on your council’s website, and also be made available in a printed copy. If you cannot find it, if you would like someone to explain more about it, or if you have any comments, you can contact your Family Information Service. You can find your local Family Information Service's contact details using our Childcare Finder. Children, young people and parents must be involved in developing their Local Offer to ensure that it reflects their needs and aspirations. Most areas have parent carer forums and other groups for parents of disabled children, which offer support as well as the chance to take part in consultations (see Useful Contacts below).

A series of resources that provide support to families who have children with special educational needs and need advice on legal reforms has been developed by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors in partnership with the charity Sense. The resources include factsheets on the Children and Families Act 2014, and template letters to support parents to write to their local authority.


The Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS)

The EYFS is a set of standards that all registered childcare settings, registered childminders, and schools caring for children up to the age of five must meet, including how they should care for children with SEND.

This includes:

  • Making arrangements to support children with SEND, and giving parents information about this
  • Identifying a staff member with lead responsibility for SEN (Special Educational Needs Coordinator or SENCO)
  • Discussing concerns about your child’s development with you and agreeing how best to support them, as well as considering if specialist input is needed
  • Ongoing assessment, keeping you informed about your child’s development

Your child's nursery, pre-school or childminder should provide a written summary of your child’s progress when they are between two and three years old. This will give details about your child’s development, their strengths, talents and likes, as well as any additional support that they might need.

03 - Looking for childcare

Where should I start looking for childcare?

There are a range of childcare options available for your child: some of these will be for children of all abilities, while others will be specialist services only for disabled children.

It is worth considering what kind of childcare you want. You should think about whether you want your child to be cared for at home, in a group setting or in another person’s home.


What is registered childcare?

The term ‘registered childcare’, means it is registered with the government department, Ofsted, on its childcare register. This means that the childcare provider has met the minimum requirements for care and education, and has been awarded a grade, based on how well it meets children's needs. You can find details of the Ofsted grading for all registered childcare by visiting


Specialist childcare

It may be necessary for your child to attend a specialist childcare setting or you may prefer this. Specialist childcare is where the service cares only for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Staff will be very well trained in caring for children with complex needs, and the environment, equipment and toys will all be appropriate for the children attending. Some providers will be attached to a special school or a school for hearing or visually impaired children and others will be managed by the council, such as enhanced children’s centres, or may be run by a charity.

For specialist early years services, such as nurseries or enhanced children’s centres, your child would usually need to be referred by a social worker or healthcare professional. Alternatively, the setting may be named in your child’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan (see section 06 - EHC assessments and plans). If you have identified a suitable provider, and your child is being assessed for their EHC Plan, you can request that this provider is named in your child’s plan. However, places at good specialist early years settings are limited and they may have a long waiting list.  Some families prefer to use a combination of mainstream and specialist care in the early years, depending on availability of services and the child’s needs. 

Specialist after-school-clubs and holiday clubs are usually council or charity run and will have their own criteria for accepting children.  Many will also accommodate siblings, regardless of whether they have any special educational needs or disabilities. They will offer a range of fun, age-appropriate activities and good services will provide transport from school during term time.  Many charity run services will also offer youth clubs and activities for older young people. 

Places at specialist after school and holiday care settings are very limited and you may only be offered occasional after school care and a few days in the holidays. It is a good idea to find out early on how to access a place. 

If the service is Ofsted registered, you may be able to get help to pay for this through the childcare element of Working Tax Credit, Universal Credit, Tax Free Childcare or employer childcare vouchers. If the setting is named in your child’s EHC plan, you may be able to use direct payments or part of a personal budget for this care.

Speak to your local Family Information Service to find out about specialist provision in your area or look for details on your council’s Local Offer (see section 02 - What the law says).

This short film features a specialist setting in Surrey which provides quality care specifically for children with SEND, and looks at the difference it is making to families’ lives.

Where can I find registered childcare away from home?

Use our Childcare Finder to help find registered childcare near you. The results of this search tool are provided by Family Information Services, who hold details of all registered childcare providers in their area and can help you find childcare. The Childcare Finder will also help you find contact details of your local Family Information Service.

When you contact your Family Information Service, explain that your child has a disability or special educational need. They may have a specialist worker who can support you or they will refer you to the area Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO). You should discuss your child’s needs and any additional support they may require. The Family Information Service or SENCO should be able to advise you about any specialist services, local support and any additional funding for childcare you might be eligible for.

Family Information Services can also offer brokerage. This is when it acts on your behalf to help you secure a childcare place. If you are having difficulty finding a childcare place, you should ask about how the brokerage service might be able to help you. The Family Information Service may offer to ring round nurseries or childminders that you like, come with you to meetings or support you in other ways to help you arrange childcare.

Other parents may be able to recommend childcare providers who are skilled and experienced in working with disabled children. They can also provide much needed support. It is important to remember though, that what might be right for one family is not necessarily right for another.


Group settings for children up to the age of five

Nurseries, including those based in children’s centres, and pre-schools all offer a similar type of care and may be run by the council or by private or voluntary organisations. Your child will have the opportunity to learn and play alongside lots of other children and take part in games and activities that will help them develop and understand the world around them.

All childcare settings, which offer free places to two, three, and four year olds, including school nurseries, must follow the SEND Code of Practice, and if they are a group setting, they should have a named special educational needs coordinator (SENCO). All registered childcare settings, including childminders and schools caring for children up to the age of five, must deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) (see section 02 - What the law says).

When your child starts at a group childcare setting, they will be appointed a key person responsible for planning their activities. This key person will keep a daily record of your child’s progress, and will share it on a regular basis with you.

This short film looks at how an inclusive early years setting in Suffolk has easily made minor adaptations to their care in order to look after children who have additional needs.


A childminder can offer your child a homely environment that suits some children better than a larger, noisier nursery or out of school club. Childminders can care for children from birth through to their teens and they will often be able to drop off and pick up from school.

Many childminders have had training that enables them to work with disabled children or those with special educational needs, although, in practice, provision varies considerably from area to area. They will offer the same opportunities as other childcare, but with the added benefit of providing care at their home with fewer additional children.

Depending on your child’s disability or additional needs, caring for them may mean that the childminder looks after fewer other children. This is likely to make their care more expensive, so you should speak to the local council’s SENCO to see what financial help they can offer you to pay for this. Local councils should have money allocated for disabled children to attend suitable childcare, to help cover additional fees as well as training or adapting a childminder’s home.

This short film looks at two very dedicated childminders who, with no previous experience or training, have adapted their care in order to look after a child who came to them with additional needs.

Out of school clubs and holiday clubs

Out of school clubs offer children aged over five (sometimes four) the opportunity to play, do sports and creative activities or study in a safe environment around school hours and during the school holidays.

You can speak to the manager or SENCO, if there is one, to discuss your child’s needs. If the staff team require additional training, you should discuss with them who should provide this training – it may be you, a health worker or a specialist. You will also need to explore whether the premises need to be adapted to enable your child to have the same opportunities as other children.

This short film looks at what an inclusive setting in York has done to ensure their service is accessible for all parents.

Home carers

Home carers suit many families, particularly those with disabled children, larger families or those who work unsociable hours. A home carer may be a nanny, a personal assistant or, in some cases, a relative. A home carer offers you flexibility in your childcare as you determine their working times and duties. Your child is in their own home, which may be necessary or preferable for some disabled children. Home carers have sometimes had training to use equipment set up at home and can give any medication or therapy that your child requires.

Generally, if you have a home carer, you become their employer. This means you are responsible for: recruiting an appropriate person; carrying out a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check; ensuring they are trained; agreeing terms and conditions; and taking care of their pay including tax and National Insurance Contributions.

You could choose to use someone from an agency (including nanny agencies and personal assistant agencies), in which case most of the administration would be done for you, such as checks and payroll. If you use an agency carer, you may have less control over them and what their duties include.

To get help towards your childcare costs, your home carer cannot be a relative and they need to register with Ofsted on the voluntary part of the Childcare Register. For further details of registration requirements, visit the Government's webpage, ‘Register as a childminder or childcare provider (England)’.

04 - Choosing childcare

Where do I start?

When you have a shortlist of childcare providers that you like, it is worth visiting or interviewing as many as possible. Many nurseries have an open-door policy where you can drop in unannounced. Some also hold ‘open days’ and ‘family fun days’ which can be a good chance to talk to staff as well as parents already using the setting. Always have a list of questions ready, as it is easy to forget to ask certain questions, and some subjects can be tricky to approach. When you get there, keep these questions in mind:

  • Do you get a warm welcome when you arrive?
  • Is the setting child friendly?
  • Is there access to outdoor space?
  • Do the children there seem happy and content?
  • Are you able to meet other staff?
  • Are they willing to show you around?
  • Do the staff interact with your child?
  • Are they comfortable around your child’s disability?
  • What adaptations would they need to make for your child?


You will also need to consider how well the childcare setting can accommodate any additional needs your child has. Try to speak to the manager or appointed special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) to find out:

  • What experience do they have of working with disabled children or children with similar needs?
  • What relevant training do they have?
  • Would they need more training?
  • What support do they offer children with disabilities and SEN?
  • How would they ensure that your child has the same play and learning opportunities as other children?
  • How would they approach your child’s disability with other children/parents if they have questions?
  • How will they communicate with you about your child’s progress and needs?


How do I know if the childcare setting is right for my child?

Wherever possible, always choose recommended childcare that has a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating and where you feel confident leaving your child. You will need to allow for a settling-in period and you can negotiate this with the childcare provider. Many parents build up the number of hours they leave their child for, increasing gradually. This allows for everyone to get used to the new routine and for the key person at the childcare setting to get to know your child as well as undertake any necessary training.

In the majority of situations, with the right care and support, children adapt to new surroundings in their own time and are very excited about the new opportunities childcare can offer them. As a parent, you will know whether your child is happy, and with regular feedback, you will find out how they are progressing. You should discuss any concerns as soon as possible with your child’s key person or speak to the manager.


What if I cannot find any suitable childcare?

Many local councils offer brokerage. Brokerage is when someone advises and negotiates on someone’s behalf. Family Information Services usually provide brokerage, which should include the following:

  • Support in securing an appropriate childcare place – this may not be your first choice and they may help you to widen your search for childcare (you need to keep in mind that good settings usually have long waiting lists for all children)
  • Guidance on local providers who have experienced staff
  • Assistance in contacting childcare providers, including telephone calls, arranging visits and discussing any adaptations or training they might need

Find your Family Information Service's contact details.


You should not be charged additional fees because your child is disabled

Despite the law saying that your child should not be discriminated against because of their disability, the reality is that many parents find they cannot find suitable childcare or they are charged more for the care of their children. Your council should have funding available to support your child in childcare but parents report that this is often unavailable or does not meet their needs.

If your child is refused a place at a nursery or after school club because of their disability or special educational needs, and you have not secured a place through brokerage, you should seek advice from the local Information, Advice and Support Service (IASS) in your area. The IASS Network is the new name for the National Parent Partnership Network (NPPN) and services are found in all local authority areas. They offer independent, impartial advice on issues relating to disability and SEN.

To find your local IASS, visit

05 - Support in early years

What special educational needs (SEN) support will be offered to my child?

All Ofsted registered childcare settings, such as nurseries, pre-schools and nursery classes, must make arrangements to support children with SEN and make information about this available to parents. They should identify a member of staff, such as the Special Educational Needs Coordinator or SENCO, to be responsible for SEND, to advise colleagues and ensure that parents are actively involved in decisions. Childminders are ‘encouraged’ to identify someone to act as the SENCO, perhaps shared with others registered with the same agency. All early years settings, which offer free childcare for two, three and four year olds must follow  the SEND Code of Practice.

If you think, or already know, that your child has SEN, the SENCO is a useful person to talk to. Every child should have a named key person, whose role is to keep an eye on day-to-day progress and keep you informed. It is a good idea to speak to the key worker as well as the SENCO about your child’s needs.

Nurseries and other childcare providers should regularly assess your child’s progress, keeping you informed. You should be given a written summary of your child’s progress when they are between two and three years old, as part of the EYFS framework. Staff should respond quickly to emerging difficulties by trying new approaches, consulting you and developing a plan. This should set out your child’s strengths, any areas of concern, and explain what support they will offer. This might involve, for example, trying a special learning programme or seeking advice from a speech and language therapist or a specialist teacher.

The childcare setting should agree with you when to review the plan to see how well it is working. If, after trying new approaches and seeking specialist advice, your child is not making better progress, it may be time to consider a formal assessment of their needs. This is described in the next section – Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessments and plans.


Portage Service

Portage is a home visiting educational service for very young children with SEN and disabilities.

Specially trained home visitors will visit you regularly and support you and your child to enjoy play and learning activities. The home visitors will discuss with you a developmental plan or profile, which will detail your child’s abilities, strengths, support needs and future learning goals.

Many Portage home visitors are qualified teachers, early education or SEN specialists, and all have undergone Portage training. The Portage Service is free and can be provided soon after the birth of your child, or when their additional needs become apparent.

The local council often runs Portage Services and you can find details of a service near you by contacting your local Family Information Service. Find contacts details of your Family Information Service.

06 - EHC assessments and plans

How do I get my child assessed for an EHC Plan?

Education, health and care (EHC) assessment plans are gradually replacing statutory statements. If your child already has a statement of special educational need (SEN), they will be assessed for an EHC plan in their next review meeting.

If your child does not currently have a statement of SEN, but you feel that despite careful planning and additional support, they are not making expected progress, then you can request an EHC assessment. You should discuss this with your child’s keyworker, teacher or the SENCO. They will need your permission to request an EHC assessment, although you can request one yourself.

EHC assessments aim to provide a rounded picture of a child’s strengths and needs and to consider what support is required for them to make better progress. This is set out in detail in an EHC plan, and agreed with you. The EHC plan is a legal document and all the organisations and services named in it must comply with the plans for your child.

On receiving a request for an EHC assessment, the council has six weeks to decide whether to assess your child’s needs. The full assessment process can take up to 20 weeks, including at least 15 days for you to consider the draft EHC plan.

Your views should be included throughout the process and you should be supported to take part in decisions. Your child’s views are also important and for very young children, this might involve observing them in nursery.

Several different specialists may be involved in assessing your child’s needs and the council should organise this to suit you and your family. They should take a “tell us once” approach, so that you do not need to repeat the same information.


What is an EHC Plan?

An EHC plan should clearly explain how your child would be supported in their education, health and care needs to achieve their potential. It should be a plan for long-term aspirations as well as transition times, such as the move to primary school. It will include information on your child’s strengths and achievements, and set out in detail what special provision will be provided.

You can ask for a named nursery, childminder or school in the EHC plan. If you name a maintained (council run) nursery or school, then it must offer a place for your child. You also have the right to ask for a non-council run childcare place, which the local council must consider and name in your child’s EHC plan, if it is appropriate.

EHC plans for young children should be reviewed every three to six months, and in good time for the move to primary school.

You must be involved in the review and you have the right to appeal against changes to key parts of the plan.

series of resources that provide support to families who have children with special educational needs has been developed by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors in partnership with the charity Sense. The resources include factsheets on the Children and Families Act 2014, and template letters to support parents to write to their local authority.

07 - Personal budgets

What is a personal budget?

When your child has had an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment and the plan is agreed, you have the option of asking for a ‘personal budget’. This is a sum of money allocated to your child to pay for the services, equipment and support detailed in their EHC plan.

Personal budgets aim to give you more choice and control over the services that your child receives. They can work in a number of ways. You can:

  • Choose to receive ‘direct payments’ so that you can purchase services for your child
  • Ask the council to hold the budget and buy in some or all of the services on your behalf (a ‘notional arrangement’)
  • Name an individual or organisation to do so on your behalf (a ‘third party arrangement’)
  • Any combination of these options

Some parents are very happy to take these payments and buy in the services or equipment that their child needs. In this case, the money is paid into a separate bank account, and can only be used on the things that are detailed in the EHC plan. Other parents prefer the council or a third party to have responsibility for managing this money. It is entirely up to you. The important thing is to get as much information as you can on how personal budgets work, so that you can make a well informed decision about it. You might want to discuss it with your social worker, if you have one.

Your council must make information available to you about how personal budgets work in your area and give you information about the support that is on offer to help you understand personal budgets. This should be in the Local Offer, which is available on your council’s website (see section 2 - What the law says).

If you have difficulty finding information about personal budgets, speak to your Family Information Service.


Is there any help available?

The Independent Support Programme provides help to children and their parents who are going through the process of developing Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans. Support and advice is provided by Independent Supporters who are allocated by local service providers or Information, Advice and Support Services. Independent Supporters also help gather information for drafting EHC plans. They are recruited through the programme which is managed by the Council for Disabled Children.

For further information, visit

08 - Making complaints and appealing decisions

If you are unhappy about your local authority’s decision regarding an Education Health Care (EHC) assessment or the level of care that your child is receiving at nursery or school, you can complain and in some cases appeal against decisions. Your council must let you know how you can complain and appeal decisions and make information available to you about the process of appealing. This information should be in the Local Offer (see section 02 - What the law says).


What can I do if I am unhappy about the level of care that my child is receiving?

You should speak to the manager or headteacher in the first instance. Many issues can be resolved by discussing your concerns and agreeing a plan of action. You should also agree when this will be reviewed. If you are still not happy, or feel that they are not meeting their duties, you can consider taking the matter further.


Where can I get help with resolving a dispute or making an appeal?

Information, Advice and Support Service (IASS)

Your local Information, Advice and Support Service (IASS), formerly the National Parent Partnership Network, offers impartial information, advice and support to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, and their parents. The IASS will also be able to put you in touch with other sources of advice, information and support. To find the contact details of your local IASS, visit

Disagreement resolution

This offers a quick way of settling disputes about the level of care that your child is receiving at nursery or school or from health and social care services during an EHC assessment or review. Your child does not have to have an EHC plan for you to go to the disagreement resolution service. It is run separately from the council and is free for parents and young people to use. Your council must make information available to you about how to contact your local disagreement resolution service and this will be in their Local Offer (see Section 02 - What the law says).


What can I do if my child is refused an assessment or EHC plan?

Mediation offers an informal way of resolving disputes if you have been refused an EHC assessment, or if an EHC plan has not been written, reviewed or renewed.

Mediation services are run separately from the council, but the council must give you information about mediation. Mediation is free for parents and young people.

If you are considering appealing a decision at the SEND Tribunal, you must contact a mediation adviser before you can register with most types of appeal. You do not actually have to take part in mediation and it will not influence the outcome of any future appeal.


Appeals to the SEND Tribunal

If you are still unhappy with a decision that the council has made or you feel your child has been discriminated against because of their disability, you can take your complaint to the SEND Tribunal. It is a formal process to hear appeals about:

  • The decision not to carry out an EHC assessment or not to issue an EHC plan
  • The description of your child’s needs or the provision to be made (but not the personal budget)
  • The school, early years setting or other institution named (or not named) in the plan
  • Amendments to these parts of the plan or decisions not to amend them, after a review
  • A decision to stop maintaining an EHC plan
  • Disability discrimination claims against schools and local authorities (councils)

You should not need a lawyer. However, it is a formal process and some parents may find the paperwork and the appeal meeting intimidating. It is important that you get support early on so you understand what the process involves.

You cannot appeal against the health and care parts of your child’s EHC plan, although you can take these to mediation or use other complaints processes. Your council should make information available about how to complain about health and care services.

The SEND Tribunal has a series of videos to explain the process of appealing.

09 - Financial support for children with SEND

If your child has a special educational need or disability, you may be entitled to financial support from the government. Some sources of support are only available to parents of children with a special educational need, or who are disabled.


Disability Living Allowance

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is the main source of financial support available for the additional costs faced by disabled children. Your child may qualify for DLA if they have a physical disability and/or SEN, and require more help or supervision, than other children of the same age.

Please note that DLA for the over 16s, has been replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

DLA has two components: care and mobility. Usually, you can claim for the care component when your child is aged three months and for the mobility component when they are three years old, although in some circumstances you can claim earlier. When completing your application, it is important to include as much detail as possible to ensure you receive the correct award.

Weekly DLA amounts are:

Care componentLowest: £22.00 - Middle: £55.65 - Highest: £83.10
Mobilty componentLower: £22.00 - Higher: £58.00

Further information about Disability Living Allowance.


Disability Access Fund

If your child is three or four years old and receives free childcare, and is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, you can apply for your childcare provider to receive a small amount of funding through the Disability Access Fund (£615 per year). This is to help your childcare provider make reasonable adjustments at their setting to improve your child’s access. Contact your local Family Information Service for more details on how to apply for Disability Access Funding.


There are also sources of support that families can apply for regardless of whether or not their child has SEND. Some of these offer more generous rates for children with disabilities.


Disabled child element of Child Tax Credit

If you are claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for your child, you may also be able to claim the disabled child element of Child Tax Credit. There are two elements available:

  • The disabled child element (£3,175 per year) – for each child in the family claiming DLA or who is registered blind; and
  • The severely disabled child element (an additional £1,290 per year) – for each child in the family claiming the highest rate care component of DLA.

Further information about claiming Child Tax Credit.


Universal Credit

Universal Credit is gradually replacing tax credits. The Government plans that the Universal Credit will be available in all areas of the country by the end of 2018. If you claim Universal Credit, you will also receive extra support if your child has a disability and receives DLA, a PIP or is registered blind. More information about Universal Credit and extra support for children with disabilities can be found on the website here:  


A range of funding sources help families with the cost of childcare in particular. These are available to different families depending on their circumstances. Some of these entitlements specifically include, or offer wider support for, children with special educational needs or disabilities.


Tax Free Childcare

Tax Free Childcare is paid to parents in work to help with the cost of childcare. The government will add £2 for every £8 parents pay for childcare. For each child the government will pay a maximum of £2,000 per year, or £4,000 per year for those with registered as disabled. Parents can use Tax Free Childcare until their children are aged 12, or aged 17 if they have a disability.


Free childcare and education for two year olds

Parents are entitled to free childcare for two year olds if they are in receipt of certain benefits. This is also available for children who have an EHC Plan, or who receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Eligible parents can get 570 hours of free childcare a year per child, which is normally taken as 15 hours per week during school term times.


For more information about all of these sources of support, visit our 'Help with my childcare costs' guide, or the government's Childcare Choices website.

10 - Useful resources

Coram Family and Childcare has produced a range of additional work and content on childcare for children with special educational needs and disabilities. From an inspirational short documentary series about families with children with special educational needs and disabilities to research and parliamentary inquiries seeking to address barriers faced by families, you may find the following content and links useful.

Childcare stories from families with children with SEND

An invaluable source of information about childcare can often be other parents who might have had similar experiences as you. Read about their stories and advice.

School boy in a library aisle

Our research on SEND

Our research and advocacy focuses on making Britain as supportive of fulfilling family lives as possible, and on holding government to account for doing all it can to remove barriers for families.

Parliamentary Inquiry into childcare for disabled children

Together with Contact a Family, Every Disabled Child Matters, and Working Families we are supporting an independent Parliamentary Inquiry looking into the problems faced by disabled children and their families in accessing high quality, affordable childcare. Robert Buckland MP and Pat Glass MP co-chaired the Inquiry, together with a panel of other MPs and Peers.

Useful contacts

As a parent of a disabled child you may often struggle to find information and therefore miss out on the services and help you are entitled to. These organisations may be able to offer you support.


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.


Action for Children

Campaigns for quality care for disabled and disadvantaged children. Provides information and respite care resources.



Contact is the charity for families with disabled children. Contact supports families with the best possible guidance and information. They bring families together to support each other. And help families to campaign, volunteer and fundraise to improve life for themselves and others.


Council for Disabled Children (CDC)

CDC is the umbrella body for the disabled children’s sector in England. 

Phone: 0207 843 1900



Disability Benefits Enquiry Line

Government information for disabled people and carers. Check website for contact details of various benefits helplines.


Disabled Information and Advice Line (DIAL UK)

DIAL is an independent network of local disability information and advice services, run by and for disabled people. 

Phone: 0808 800 3333



Family Fund

Gives grants to lower income families with severely disabled children. 

Phone: 01904 550 055  



Independent Parental Special Educational Advice (IPSEA)

Provides free, independent advice on all matters relating to SEN.

General advice line: 0800 018 4016


Irwin Mitchell

Solicitors who in partnership with the charity Sense, have developed a series of resources to provide support to families who have children with special educational needsThe resources include factsheets on the Children and Families Act 2014, and template letters to support parents to write to their local authority.



A national charity that works with disabled children, young people and their families, offering support, guidance, respite and other services.


National Deaf Children's Society

Provides a series of resources for parents of deaf children, including your deaf child's education, learning in the early years, choosing a school and special educational needs.


National Network of Parent Carer Forums (NNPCF)

The NNPCF is a network of local forums involving parent carers to improve local and national services.


National Portage Association

Offers home learning opportunities for pre-school-age disabled children. 



Information, Advice and Support Services Network

A network of services in all local authority areas that provide free independent information and advice to support parents of children with SEND.



Produce a parent guide offering tips on supporting your disabled child in the early years, from where to get help to dealing with professionals. It also includes useful information on early education and help with the extra costs of living with a disability. 

Information Line: 0808 800 3333



Offers free and independent advice on all issues around SEN including how to challenge unfair decisions. 

Phone: 0300 302 3731


Tax Credit Helpline

For information about tax credits and to make applications.  

Phone: 0345 300 3900

Textphone: 0345 300 3909


‘Waving not drowning’ network

A support network of parents of children with disabilities run by the charity Working Families. They also have information and a helpline on issues affecting all working parents. 

Waving not drowning helpline: 020 7017 0072

Working Families helpline: 0300 012 0312

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