Wednesday 16 August 2017

30 hours of free childcare may not be possible for autistic children like mine

When my eldest son, Anthony, turned three years old he received 15 hours of free childcare a week. This was really helpful and made it possible for me to continue working. When David turned three years old, he should have been entitled to the same amount. But that's not what happened. He got seven. David only got seven hours because he has autism - because he has additional needs. And this week I'm wondering if this will be the same for children like mine when the government extend free childcare for some working families in a few weeks time.

I can't believe that I let my autistic son's education be cut before he was even of school age. What if that had been now? In about a weeks time, some working parents in the UK may be able to take advantage of an increase in free childcare. From September 2017, three and four year old children may be able to receive 30 hours of free child education a week. Would David have benefitted from this? Probably not.

Anthony and David were both diagnosed with autism before they were four years old. When it became obvious that Anthony needed more support to go to nursery and pre-school, the nursery applied to our council for some special educational needs early years funding. This 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 constant 1:1 support, then they would need it for 15 hours.

But in the three years between Anthony accessing his 15 hours of free childcare and it being David's turn, 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 extra 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 then available - seven hours. David was three years old but he didn't speak a single word and he couldn't communicate at all. Sometimes he lashed out and sometimes 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 take David without a dedicated assistant to care for him.

The result was that 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.

It seemed backwards. The child who needed the most opportunity to 'catch-up' and be independent, the child who needed the greatest help in socialising, was getting the least time to do both.  In the end we were fortunate.  Nearby there was a nursery with a specialist facility that David could do to for his pre-school year.  But the truth is we were very fortunate to find have this - many don't.

So while I am pleased that some parents may be accessing further childcare to help them stay in work and their children access education, I fear that families like ours, and children like David may not get the support they deserve.


  1. I never realised that the free childcare hours would be affected by the need for extra support. It seems so wrong that children like David aren't able to have as many hours as their peers without special needs. #WotW

  2. Very true, when I started to investigate a childminding course - before D was diagnosed - I was really surprised that only one childminder in the area was prepared to take SN children.
    I doubt that's an isolated case within other areas.
    What with this and the fact that extra support within a daycare centre would be cut, SN parents really get the short straw when it comes to assistance or any chance of employment.

  3. My older children are 14 and 11. My 11 year old is autistic but this wasn't picked up until he was in reception. I now have an 18 week old who may well in the future have additional needs too and I fought such a battle getting him in the right setting I will hopefully be more prepared this time if I have to go through it all again xx

  4. I don't get any free childcare where I live (Iowa, US), I would be grateful for 7 free hours. I have two kids who have Autism. Here, failing to offer the same opportunities as mainstream kids receive is frowned upon but still happens. The thing is you don't have to allow this.
    Civil rights complaints can be filed, or you can take this to the news and make it common knowledge. If you are not heard, do not stop talking until you are. If not for your child, for the ones who come later. The ones we have the opportunity to help pave the way for.


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