Children With Disabilities Are Missing Out On Vital Play Opportunities, Report Reveals

24/02/2016 00:05 | Updated 24 February 2016

Children with disabilities are missing out on play activities that are vital to their development, according to report released by Lord Blunkett.

The research conducted by national deafblind charity Sense found that 92% of parents with children who have disabilities felt their child did not have the same opportunities to play as their non-disabled peers.

More than 80% of parents who submitted evidence for the report said they found it difficult to access mainstream play groups and local play opportunities at leisure centres, playgrounds and soft play.

Former Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Lord Blunkett, unveiled the report - named The Play Inquiry - on Wednesday 24 February.

"We know that play is vitally important for children with multiple needs and their families, bringing a wide range of developmental and emotional benefits," chair of the Play Inquiry, Lord Blunkett, said.


Lord Blunkett (L) launched the inquiry with national disability charity Sense

"However, our inquiry found that all too often the parents of children with multiple-needs point to barriers they face in accessing and enjoying play," he continued.

"It means that disabled children don’t have the same chance to form friendships, and parents are prevented from taking a break from caring. Both disabled children and their parents are excluded from their own communities."

The report addressed negative attitudes towards disabilities, lack of attention by the government and insufficient funding at a local level as being barriers to these children's access to play.

It is the result of a three-month public inquiry into the provision of play opportunities for disabled children from birth to five years old in England and Wales.

The inquiry invited input from a wide range of parents, play professionals, academics and local and national policymakers.

The inquiry took a predominantly qualitative approach and received 350 submissions of evidence - 175 of which were parents of children with multiple needs.

According to Sense there are currently 570,000 children with disbilities in England, approximately 100,000 of which are children (aged up to 19) living with multiple needs.

Of the parents who submitted evidence for the inquiry, 95% said they require support to find ways to play with their children.

Many families feel there is a lack of specialist support that can be accessed locally and many make long journeys to access play settings.

This contributes to financial costs, which 40% of parents said was a major barrier to accessing these play opportunities.

Addressing the lack of opportunities for children with disabilities, the report calls for urgent action to address these inequalities and to enable the Prime Minister to deliver on his recent call to improve the "life chances" of all children.

Sense Deputy CEO, Richard Kramer, said play is critical in giving children the best start in life and improving outcomes for children and their families.

"The report makes clear, however, that where a child has multiple needs, the barriers they face to accessing play settings and activities are also multiplied," he said.

"We hope that local and national policymakers, as well as play professionals, reflect on today’s recommendations, and make the necessary changes that will make access to play a reality for all children."

One of the mothers who submitted evidence for the report, Liz Randall, from West Suusex, said the report is reflective of her experiences with her five-year-old son Luke.


Liz Randall said her son Luke is a victim of missed play opportunities

Randall said she has struggled to access essential play opportunities for her son, who has multiple needs, including epilepsy, limited hearing and poor vision.

"Luke needs lots of sensory stimulation; he responds really well to toys with bells, whistles, different textures and lights and sounds, but it’s rare that these are provided," she explained.

"We’re often confronted by quite ignorant views and attitudes. Other children tend to be inquisitive about Luke, but many parents are reluctant to include us.

"You can see them steering their child away, like they think his condition is contagious. For this reason, it is tempting to stick to specialist settings and just spend time with people who see Luke, for Luke."

Recommendations from the report include:

1. Greater investment in play as part of early years funding to support play in the home and in mainstream services.

2. Developmental play services should become a statutory service for disabled children under the age of two, with an increased emphasis on children with multiple needs.

3. Play should be a key strand of the Government’s policy on parenting and should be an explicit part of government-funded parenting classes.

4. The Equality and Human Rights Commission should investigate the exclusion of children with multiple needs from mainstream play settings, and take action to enforce the Equality Act 2010.

As well as laying down national recommendations, the report requested local authorities take a lead on increasing the general public's awareness and understanding of the needs of children with disabilities.

The report also encouraged play settings, such as local businesses with play areas, to ensure that staff have received training on disability to help improve the way they support children and families. This should include responding to medical needs and communicating with children with specialist communication needs.

It is also recommended that every play setting has a play policy statement that stresses the inclusion of every child.

The full report can be downloaded at:

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