In the tips piece below Elyssa Campbell-Barr gives her best bits of advice for parents of children with special needs as they consider their childcare options. Elyssa Campbell-Barr has been writing about childcare and education for more than 15 years. She was editor of Who Minds?, the National Childminding Association magazine, from 1999-2006, and editor of The Teacher magazine from 2006-2014.
She has written about childcare and early education for many other organisations and publications, including Ofsted, Sure Start, Nursery World, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey), and NetMums. In addition, she has recently had a new book published, Choosing Childcare (see image of the front cover below). As the working mother of a three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son, she has very recent and relevant first-hand experience of the book’s topics.
Finding the right childcare for your little one while you work or study can be a challenge. If your child has additional needs of any sort – whether a physical disability, chronic medical condition, learning difficulties, behavioural issues, communication problems or severe allergies – it might feel particularly daunting. The good news is that there is plenty of support available.
- Every local authority in England has a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (Senco), and you’ll find a Senco in every nursery and Sure Start centre too. Their role is to work with you and your child, as well as staff and outside agencies, to make sure your son or daughter gets appropriate support.
- Local authorities in England must also have a ‘Local Offer’ which explains the services available to children who have special education needs or disabilities (SEND) and their families. You’ll be able to find this online.
- Mainstream childcare providers, such as nurseries and childminders, are required by law to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate youngsters with additional needs. What’s considered a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is decided on a case-by-case basis, but examples might include new catering arrangements to accommodate a child with food allergies, an access ramp for a child with mobility difficulties, or finding space and time for a speech therapist to work one-to-one with a child with delayed speech.
- If specialist childcare would be more appropriate for your child, your local authority Senco or Family Information Service should be able to tell you about local nurseries and playschemes specifically for disabled children, as well as about specially trained registered childminders, and home childcarers if your child needs care at home.
- There are also private nanny agencies that specialise in providing families with childcarers who have training or experience in caring for disabled children and those with special educational needs. Snap Childcare (www.snapchildcare.co.uk) is one that covers the whole of the UK, and a web search may reveal others in your area.
- There may be financial support available for your childcare provider. Ask your Senco about grants or funding that might cover the costs of assistants, extra equipment, sessions with specialists or training.
- Check your entitlement to tax credits, as the amount you receive may be higher if your child is eligible for Disability Living Allowance or is registered blind.
- In England, if your child has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC) they will be eligible for 15 hours of free early education each week from the term after they turn two. You don’t need to be working or studying to access this.
- Under the Childcare Act 2016, local authorities in England have a duty to ensure there is suitable childcare accessible to all families who need it, and this covers disabled children up to the age of 18.
- Finding the right childcare for a child with special needs may take extra time, effort and determination, but it benefits for the whole family. The charity Contact a Family (www.cafamily.org.uk) and local groups that make up the National Network of Parent Carer Forums (www.nnpcf.org.uk) are valuable sources of further advice.