Today is the first day of half-term. For so many parents and children across the country, the half-term holidays are a time of playgroups, and football matches, Brownies, swimming and seeing friends.
But for too many parents of disabled children, school holidays are a time of stress and anguish at not being able to access the activities that so many children take for granted.
“My child feels frustrated when he can’t participate in the same clubs that his friends and sibling attend. It can be quite alienating and makes socialising with peers from school difficult at times.” (Joanne, Bristol)
“It not only affects my disabled child but also my other children who feel guilty for accessing mainstream activities and sometimes restricted from accessing them due to their sisters’ needs.” (Carly, Bristol)
“My daughter has missed out on lots of experiences that other kids take for granted: making new friends, trying out new things, becoming independent, etc.” (Helen, London)
We joined forces with Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest website for parents, to survey parents of disabled children on their experiences trying to access after-school activities such as youth clubs, sports clubs, Brownies and Scouts.
And the results were astounding…
Six in ten parents of disabled children say that local activities are not open to their son or daughter because they are disabled. This means that four in ten parents of disabled children say that their children ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ have the opportunity to socialise and mix with children who are not disabled. This experience of being turned away from clubs has left them and their children feeling isolated and desperate.
“It makes my son feel excluded and very aware of the fact that, although he’s in mainstream school, he’s not ‘like’ the other children, which has really impacted on his self-esteem.” (Sarah, Canterbury)
“We were made to feel like outcasts sometimes due to behaviour issues and his bowel disorder. Staff would always refuse to help him. This was deeply upsetting.” (Tracy, Northfleet)
“Parents even in this day and age seem to think my son is a leper with a contagious disease yet he has cerebral palsy.” (Helen, Surbiton)
“It makes us feel awful, unwanted, isolated and alone. It puts additional pressure on us as parents as we feel we’d like to do more, but are so exhausted at trying to help him fit it.” (Mary, Ely)
Justine Roberts, Co-Founder and CEO of Mumsnet, said:
“One of the motivations for our This is My Child campaign is to show people that social inclusion of children with additional needs is crucial to their quality of life. With a bit of organisation and planning, children with disabilities can happily take part in all kinds of extra-curricular activities.”
The survey also revealed that 7 in 10 parents believe that more positive attitudes and better understanding of disability amongst staff and organisers would enable their child to be included. For them, this was far more of an issue in enabling their child to access after-school activities than inaccessible venues, for example. It is the people, not the buildings, that need to change.
What can we do?
Scope and Mumsnet are calling on local councils to do more to make local leisure activities, groups and play centres inclusive to disabled children. We believe that the Government needs to set the tone for a culture change in how local groups and centres are planning and run, so that they are accessible and inclusive for all local children and their families.
In the meantime, this half-term, we are also asking parents of disabled children to share their thoughts and tips on how to deal with the negative attitudes of staff at local activity centres.
Have you every experienced negative attitudes from staff at an extra-curricular activity in your area?
How have you challenged these attitudes to encourage them to include your child?
If you’ve been able to overcome these attitudes, we’d love to hear from you and will compile your suggestions into a short guide to help other parents during the holidays.