Families 'reach breaking point'

WheelchairAlmost two thirds (62%) of families with disabled children are not getting crucial support and services in their local area, a report has shown.

The figures were released as charities, parenting groups and disability campaigners warned that families with disabled children are at breaking point due to a chronic shortage of childcare or nursery places, appropriate schools, essential therapies or even healthcare in their local area.
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Leading charities including Scope, Sense, 4Children and The Family and Parenting Institute came together as the Government prepares what the charities call "the biggest shake-up of support for disabled children or those with special educational needs for 30 years".

The report, published by Scope, revealed that 60% of the 600 families they spoke to described the process of getting their child the right services they need as a "battle".

Of the families who couldn't access services locally, 80% said it caused them stress and anxiety. Over half (51%) said it had a negative impact on their ability to work and meant they missed out on family activities like birthdays and playing together.

The charities and other groups claimed that changes in the Children and Families Bill could fail to improve the lives of families that have disabled children.

The Education Select Committee has begun to scrutinise the Bill, which Scope warned would not plug the shortage of local services. The draft Bill, published in September, proposed new joint education, health and care plans and a plan to force councils to list what services are available for disabled children in the local area, according to the charities. But they argued it does not go far enough.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said: "The Government has a once-in-a generation opportunity to end the daily struggle parents of disabled children face. More than 500,000 families have a disabled child. The Government has recognised the issue and the appointment of a new minister presents a huge opportunity to truly make this Bill work for all families. But at the moment, it doesn't go far enough and won't plug the gaps in local services that families with disabled children desperately need."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Some parents battle for months, even years, to get the right support and funding. We're changing the system so they get this help as quickly as possible, and we've already started to test new arrangements in 31 local authorities well before they come into force in 2014. We listen closely to what parents are telling us so reports like this are always welcome. We've been absolutely clear that local authorities must target funding at the most vulnerable children who need the most support.

"Councils have a statutory duty to identify children's special educational needs and provide the services to meet them - no ifs or buts."
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