Families at breaking point
On Tuesday MPs debated changes to support for disabled children in the Children and Families Bill for the final time.
Scope launched the Keep Us Close campaign last October after our research showed that almost two-thirds of families with disabled children can’t get the support they need in their local area. Essential services such as schools, playgroups and leisure services aren’t inclusive and accessible, denying disabled children vital support.
Parents of disabled children have told us heartbreaking stories of being pushed to the limit by the lack of support. All around the country people have been moved by this issue and more than 22,000 people contacted their MP calling on them to take action.
So what happened in this important debate?
There was great news that MPs from both Labour and the Conservative Party supported Scope’s two key amendments to improve the Bill. The first change we wanted would force councils to ensure that the local services we all rely on day to day are inclusive and accessible for disabled children and children with special educational needs. Our second amendment would enable parents to properly hold local authorities to account – to give them a voice ensuring the support they need is available in their local area.
Many MPs spoke passionately about the battles that parents face in getting support. They recognised the need to ensure that disabled children and their families are at the heart of decision-making when local authorities are developing services.
A once in a generation chance
The Children and Families Bill is a vital chance for the Government to address the struggles these families are facing. In the debate Graham Stuart MP rightly said that this is “a flagship bill” with the potential to change the lives of children with Special Educational Needs – just as the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act transformed support for millions of disabled people.
Conservative MP Robert Buckland spoke of the struggles that families face to get the support they need, largely due to the “assumption… that disabled children and young people…will not want to access mainstream services”. He also emphasised that there must be a complete “transformation” of local support for disabled children to make them more inclusive.
It was also particularly encouraging to hear the Chair of the Education Select Committee, Graham Stuart MP, pushing that he wanted the “power and role of parents enhanced by this legislation, not diminished”.
And the Children’s Minister Edward Timpson responded directly to our campaign.
He made a point of saying he understood how important local services are for disabled children and their families and mentioned our campaign specifically.
He hasn’t made a firm commitment yet, but said he’s hoping to ensure that the regulations accompanying the Bill include a duty – to ensure that councils promote services which are “responsive to the needs” of the local community, such as listening to children with Special Educational Needs and their families.
This could be a huge step forward but there is still a lot more to do.
Will they deliver on their promise?
The Government has made some welcome changes in the Bill, particularly support for children with the most complex needs. But for the nine out of 10 children with Special Educational Needs who do not qualify for a statement (or Education, Health and Care Plan under the new reforms), their future still remains uncertain.
And despite a small number of committed MPs working hard to improve the Bill in Parliament, wider interest from MPs has been disappointingly low – despite the importance of this issue.
The Government promised parents a transformation in the way support is provided for families with children with Special Educational Needs. But the reforms currently in the Bill are not good enough. The Bill will now be passed to the House of Lords. Parents deserve better local support and Scope will be doing all it can to ensure Peers in the House of Lords improve the Bill so it meets the high expectations families have.