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Nine out of 10 families have been unable to find a suitable holiday club for their disabled child this summer

The majority of families with disabled children (81%) would like a holiday club for their disabled child during the six-week break: 40% to enable them to work and 77% so their child can socialise with other children.

But just 10% have found something suitable and 4% of everyone surveyed said they’d found something for the days and hours they need.

These are the findings of a new survey by the Disabled Children’s Partnership and disability charity Contact. Almost 1,800 parents caring for 2,000 disabled children in the UK responded to the online survey between 17 June to 3 July 2023.

Anna Bird, Chair of the Disabled Children’s Partnership and Chief Executive of Contact, said: “The lack of available and suitable holiday clubs for disabled children this summer is piling increased pressure on families. Many parents say they are dreading the holidays and feel a sense of despair. In addition, the consequences for disabled children including isolation, lack of social contact and routine, will make the return to school much harder.

“The government has made childcare one of its key priorities, but disabled children are being left behind yet again. Workforce issues, ratios and lack of special educational needs training all make it harder for disabled children to access holiday clubs and childcare.  We need urgent action to address this so families with disabled children can look forward to holidays rather than dread them.”

Other key findings include:

  • 78% of parents feel stressed and anxious due to lack of holiday clubs this summer.
  • 34% of parents don’t work because of a lack of childcare including holiday clubs.
  • One in five say that the holiday clubs they have identified are oversubscribed.
  • Over a third of families report that holiday club providers cannot meet their child’s needs.
  • For those parents in paid employment 19% will have to reduce the hours they work during the six-week summer break.

The lack of holiday clubs is particularly hard for families with disabled children who have no informal childcare arrangements. Playdates are just not an option. 27% of families did say they would be tag-teaming with their partner or extended family, but for children with high care needs, family and friends can’t step in.

In addition, disabled children need structure and routine to maintain sensory regulation which helps reduce anxiety and challenging behaviour.  When structure is absent, disabled children’s needs may increase not just in the home but also upon their return to school. 

In response to the survey findings Disabled Children’s Partnership and Contact are calling on all UK governments and local councils to:

  • Prioritise provision of holiday clubs and childcare for disabled children and their families. This is particularly important because we know from our research that many disabled children are not able to take advantage of government schemes to help families with childcare including the free hours and the Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme in England. For example ensure at least 15% of activities funded by HAF and their equivalent in the nations are specifically for disabled children.
  • Address workforce issues, ratios of staff to children and special educational needs training to ensure disabled children are able to benefit from holiday clubs and childcare.
  • Provide training on reasonable adjustment for providers - good communication, inclusive and welcoming attitudes, a willingness to take small steps to make the activity or experience inclusive, taking parents’ views on board to make this happen.

Jen, aged 39, is mum to Betty, six, who is deaf, visually impaired and has complex needs following treatment for a brain tumour when she was 7 months old. They live in Poole, Dorset. Jen, an events co-ordinator for an arts charity, has not been able to find suitable respite care for Betty during the school holidays.

She said: “During term time Betty is at school, and with the help of carers and support from our family my husband and I manage to work as well as care for Betty.

“But in the school holidays all she has access to is a playscheme for two hours once a week, which makes it extremely difficult for us to cope.

“There is no other provision at all where we live for children and young people who need one to one care, so Betty needs to be accompanied by a carer. By the time I’ve driven her there and then picked her up it barely qualifies as a break at all.

“Disabled children are at more risk of becoming isolated anyway, but during the holidays Betty barely has any opportunities to meet other children, try new activities or get out of the house as there is nothing suitable for her.

“It seems to be left to charities to plug the gap where local authorities have failed, and any charity run activities require parents or carers to attend, or are irregular, so we can’t rely on them.

“The school holiday provision is so woefully inadequate it is no surprise that many parents have to give up their jobs to care for their children.

“Betty, along with other children who have a disability, have the same rights to play, to learn and to socialise as any other child, but they are being failed by both a lack of funding and a lack of political will, both locally and nationally, to really address this issue.”


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