Supporting disabled children is a fundamental part of the Children’s Commissioner’s role. The Commissioner has a statutory duty towards children in care, those living away from home, and those with a social worker – and disabled children are disproportionately represented in these groups.
Many disabled children access support through the Commissioner’s Help at Hand information and advice service. Over the summer Help at Hand has been trying to assist Salma, a child with severe cognitive and physical impairments. She lives at home with her mother who is dedicated to her care. Salma lives in the dining room and has no access to a bathroom, kitchen or her bedroom as the house has not had the necessary adaptations it needs to accommodate her wheelchair or other disability aids. This situation has gone on for a number of years.
The Children’s Commissioner has written on Salma’s behalf to the Director of Children’s services and the Integrated Care Board to highlight this case and ask for urgent action. Help at Hand hopes this will provide the necessary push to get Salma what she needs and has needed for so long.
Sadly, Salma’s case is not a one-off. Many disabled children are not receiving the support they urgently need. Help at Hand has heard many cases of children who are struggling to access an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) – which can be critical for unlocking vital support. Other children and families have reached out because their child’s plan is not being followed, which is affecting their ability to attend school, and lead healthy, happy lives.
A particularly troubling trend, highlighted in the Commissioner’s report published today, is the poor-quality care children are receiving in unregulated settings. In one case heard by Help at Hand, a concerned employee reached out regarding an organisation purportedly providing a day centre (non-residential care) to disabled children aged over 8, which was being recommended by the local authority to families of disabled children. The concerns ranged from physical abuse of the children, to providing services that should have been regulated. Despite reporting this abuse, because the service is unregulated, few sanctions could be imposed below the threshold for criminal prosecution.
Another problem is carers who support children in their homes not being properly regulated. Help at Hand has heard very concerning cases of unregistered carers who have been inexperienced and il-equipped to manage a children’s complex needs. This is because the type of ‘personal care’ they are providing is outside what is recognised under the current Care Quality Commission definition.
Another theme to emerge from the Help at Hand case analysis is the problem of some local authorities not finding appropriate care for children, and sometimes shifting this responsibility onto parents. While some children and parents may prefer direct payments, this should be a choice.
The Children’s Commissioner is determined to close any loophole that results in disabled children receiving care which is poor-quality, or even dangerous. To address this issue, today the Commissioner set out a number of recommendations in the report ‘We all have a voice’: Disabled children’s vision for change, including expanding the definition of ‘personal care’ to ensure the Care Quality Commission (CQC) can inspect all services and settings where care is being delivered to children, and ensuring that all care for disabled children that local authorities fund, including through direct payments to parents and carers, is properly regulated.
We hope that the Cabinet Office’s forthcoming Disability Action Plan will be an opportunity to bring forward this much-needed change.
You can read some previous blogs regarding Help at Hand’s assistance for disabled children here:
* Identifying details have been changed to protect anonymity of children.