Thursday, 9 March 2017
30 hours free childcare - completely useless for my autistic son
When Anthony turned three years old he got 15 hours of free childcare a week. Fantastic. When David turned three years old, he should have been entitled to the same amount. But that's not what he got. He got seven. David only got seven hours because he has autism, because he has additional needs. Looking back, I can't believe I let it happen.
I can't believe that even for a moment, I let my autistic son's education be cut before he was even of school age. What about if that had been now? The UK Government have just announced that they are increasing free childcare for three and four year olds to 30 hours a week... would David have benefitted from this? Answer, I don't think he'd even get close.
Eh? Really? Surely every child over the age of three (or the term after they turned three) is entitled to 15 hours of free childcare? And that's just being extended to 30 hours in the Chancellor's budget? What am I on about?
Well, Anthony and David were both diagnosed with autism before they were four years old. When it became obvious that Anthony needed support to go to nursery and pre-school, the nursery applied to our council for some special educational needs early years funding that could pay for an extra member of staff to help him. At the time you could apply for 15 hours worth of funding - which makes sense. If a child needs 1:1 support, then they need it all the time.
But in the three years since Anthony accessed his 15 hours of free childcare, local budgets had been cut for special educational needs in early years and the number of children needing this support had increased significantly. The council simply didn't have enough money to offer 15 hours of support to kids with special needs so they could get help during their 15 hours in pre-school.
Despite David's difficulties being far greater than his brother's he could only get the maximum now available - seven hours. David was three years old but he didn't speak a single word, he couldn't communicate at all. Sometimes he lashed out. Other kids got the sharp end of his frustration.
He needed support to interact with anyone, he had sensory needs, he needed help to sit when he should, eat when he should and let's not talk about how late his toilet training was. The nursery simply couldn't have David without a dedicated assistant to care for him.
The result, David only got seven free hours of childcare a week, less than his more able peers. And even then, there was no funding for extra training, so the staff didn't always know how to help him. Even other mums thought it was wrong.
30 hours of free childcare sounds great - but it's only good for families like ours if the support exists so their children can access it. Otherwise, it's pretty useless.