Mencap logoThe vast majority of parents with a child with a learning disability struggle to access support services during the 6-week school summer holidays, according to a survey.

The survey, by learning disability charity Mencap, found that 80% of respondents said they struggle to access services in this time. More specifically, almost half said they struggle to access childcare, 56% find it difficult to access short breaks and respite services and 7% highlighted a lack of access to portage – a home visiting educational service for pre-school children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families. 

In addition, 93% of parent carers said that finding childcare for disabled children more difficult than for nondisabled children.

Currently, parents of disadvantaged children aged 2, and of all 3- and 4-year-olds, are eligible for 15 hours of free childcare per week. Despite this, just 40% of parents of children with a learning disability say their child is able to access the full amount. In addition, just 21% of local authorities reported having sufficient childcare for disabled children.

Mencap is calling on the government and local authorities to establish a more flexible approach to childcare and short break services for families of children with a learning disability.  

Sharon Preece, whose 8-year-old son Sam has complex needs including a learning disability, has experienced problems in accessing support: “We have found there’s been a drastic drop in what’s available for families like ours in the summer holidays,” she said. “Not only have services been cut back, the ones that are left have increased in cost. The play scheme Sam goes on has gone from being free to costing £70 a week this year. I had to give up work to look after Sam, so the cost of activities has a real impact on what we can afford to do.

“It’s also difficult if you run into any problems because the local services are so stretched. Everyone goes on holiday and you’re very much left on your own. I’m concerned about what’s going to happen this summer. Sam is much calmer if we can keep him busy and in a structured environment, so a lack of services has a direct impact on him.

“We’ve been on some great activities in the past that we would never have been able to afford if they hadn’t been subsidised. But if all that’s going to stop, then we will lose that that quality time that other families take for granted.”

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said: “For many parents of children with a learning disability this means nonstop care, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Having to care for their child who may have complex needs whilst juggling their work and other demands can push many families to breaking point.

“Having accessible and suitable childcare on offer can be a lifeline for many families. But, due to a lack of sufficient provision from local authorities and inflexible provision of the services that are available, we are seeing many families are unable to access services and are often left to struggle alone. 

“It is unacceptable that, despite obligations, yet again local authorities are still not doing enough to help families who are being pushed into moments of crisis. This needs to change. We need to invest in these vital services and ensure equal access to them for children with a learning disability as they can be the difference between families reaching breaking point or not.”