Accessible childcare for all children with Special Educational Needs across East Sussex

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East Sussex County Council decided to stop providing and subsidising after-school provision for children attending special schools across East Sussex by Summer 2019. Since then special schools in the county were responsible for providing and funding the after-school provision themselves, along with the running of the school.

Subsequently, this Summer, Grove Park School in Crowborough, which my seven-year-old son attends, announced the club had closed as they could not afford to keep the club running without incurring considerable cost to the child’s carers. The fee for my son had been £8ph to have a 1:1, which is also the fee I was charged by a local mainstream nursery to provide a 1:1. However, specialist childcare requires either 1:1 or 2:1 child:carer ratios, whereas lower ratios are generally needed in mainstream settings, so the cost to run a specialist setting is considerably more across the setting. This has left many working families with children with SEN without the same access to childcare as other families in the county.

The Equality Act 2010 states that everyone should be treated the same and have universal access to services regardless of disability. However, I have tried mainstream childminders and nurseries since our specialist club closed and they have either reported to not be able to meet my son’s needs or have refused to have him, leaving me unable to work. I am at risk of having to leave my key-worker role in the NHS, not because I want to, but because the infrastructure is not in place to support working families with children with SEN in East Sussex. I have had time off work with stress due to this, at the taxpayer’s expense, so, based on my own personal experience of the cuts I’m estimating the cut to this key area of funding to be a false economy due to families affected being forced into unemployment, suffering ill-health, or requiring support from other public sector services, like social care, which most likely incur a greater expense to the taxpayer than the childcare provision subsidy itself. 

I am speaking on behalf of all families with children with SEN. Our children often do not have a voice and are marginalised in society. We fight tirelessly for equality and this is another example of how children with SEN are under-valued, and their needs not placed at the same standing as others in the population.

I am campaigning for the funding to be revisited by the council, and to begin negotiations with special schools regarding how this could be re-implemented in a sustainable way, without affecting other public sector service, while also helping SEN families to have access to the same support as everyone else in the county. I want the council to recognise that the current gap in provision will increase unemployment rates and increase pressure on other services such as social care.

If the council cannot work with schools to provide childcare provision, I would like mainstream settings to be asked to accommodate more SEN children, and to be given the support and training to do this. For example, none of the mainstream primary schools or childminders in my town collect children from Grove Park School, so children with SEN have been excluded from other childcare provision just through this basic lack of regard for SEN in the community.