Disabled Children – A new Priority, 21 May 2007
- I am delighted to be here to speak about the final report of our Review Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Families, which is being published this morning by the Treasury and the Department for Education and Skills. And on behalf of my colleagues Andrew Adonis, Ivan Lewis and all the ministers who have worked on our Review over the past year, let me say how very grateful we are to the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign. And thanks also to Capita for helping to organise this event – and to Philippa and Zara for their opening words and kind welcome.
- As you know, this report marks the culmination of our Disabled Children Review, part of this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review. It represents a significant step forward towards our Government’s goal of ensuring that every child – irrespective of race, religion, or background – can have the best possible start in life.
- And in particular, it sets out clear steps forward to achieve the vision for disabled children that I described when I gave the Rachel Squire memorial lecture in February.
- In that speech, I was clear that when we say every child matters, that must mean every disabled child too. And delivering on our vision through today’s report is a further sign of that commitment across government. On access, the report sets out a clear entitlement for disabled children and their families, so that they know they can expect a consistently high level of support. On empowerment, it ensures these families can be involved in designing the services they receive. On quality and timely provision, it announces a step change in the provision of short breaks, and funding for other work – including a childcare accessibility project. And on support through the lifecycle, it responds to your calls for a shift towards intervention earlier in children’s lives – while recognising the importance of the transition to adulthood.
- So this is a report that sets out a new entitlement, backed up by policies to improve public services – and by the funding to do so. I’m delighted to announce today that the Government is committing an extra £340 million over the coming three years – a third of a billion pounds – for disabled children and their families.
- I know – we all know – how challenging it can be to raise a family. But since becoming an MP, and meeting parents and children in my constituency, I’ve seen how much that challenge increases for those parents whose children have an additional need – whether a learning difficulty, physical disability, health condition, or life-limiting condition. That challenge was also brought home by last year’s Parliamentary hearing’s on services for disabled children, where young people, children and professionals gave such frank accounts of their experiences.
- And it was appreciating that challenge that made me ask whether the Government could build on what we have already done – through our commitment to children and families and our investment in children’s services – and could do more.
- In this review, we’ve asked that question. I hope today that you feel we are starting to find the answers – answers that will help disabled children and their families to deal with some of the challenges they face. I am delighted by the progress we are making, and I’m also delighted by the engagement we have received from all those with an interest in this area – including many of you here today.
- Since starting the Children and Young People’s Review last year, which the Disabled Children Review has been part of, we have received over 400 responses to our call for evidence – from professionals, academics, parents and organisations. I would like to say how grateful we were for each of these – and for the commitment that has been shown to work with the Government.
- I am also grateful to all those who gave up their time to attend the Treasury and DfES Disabled Children Seminars last year, and to those Local Authorities, Primary Care Trusts and voluntary organisations who have allowed myself and the Review team to see at first hand how they are overcoming the challenges faced by disabled children and their families.
- And I would particularly like to thank those young people, parents and professionals who shared their experiences and thoughts at the Parliamentary hearings. The work of MPs from all parties, led by my colleagues Tom Clarke and Joan Humble, helped set the agenda for our Review. And the importance of this new form of consultation was brought home by the fact that eight Government Ministers, from six different Departments – including Andrew, Ivan and myself – came to at least one of the hearings. The support of the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign organisations – Contact a Family, the Council for Disabled Children, Mencap and the Special Educational Consortium – and from Children Now magazine – was essential to making a success of the hearings, and I would like to thank them again for all of their efforts.
- We have learnt a huge amount about the issues affecting disabled children and their families – in particular, about different levels of support across the country, about the need for intervention earlier in children’s lives, and about the need for more services and support.
- It really has made a difference to have that type of collaboration, and I am very grateful for it. I hope that you will agree that the outcomes we can see in today’s report have been worth the effort you have put in.
Fulfilling the potential of every disabled child
- I certainly believe that they have been. Because today’s report sets out a package of support that is another step towards our vision of giving every child the best start in life, and towards our aim of equality of opportunity for disabled children.
- It sets out how we will build on the Improving Life Chances report, the SEN Removing Barriers to Achievement report, and the clear standards set out in the National Service Framework – and how we can improve disabled children’s educational, social and emotional development. And it sets out how we can increase the opportunities for disabled young people to live independently, with choice and control over their own support and services.
- To do so – to empower disabled children, young people and their families to take that control, to take decisions about their own care and to influence local priorities – today’s report outlines a clear entitlement for them.
- At the heart of that is the establishment of a ‘core offer’, with minimum standards on information, transparency, participation, assessment and feedback for disabled children and their families. That will mean that those children and families will have a clearer understanding of what they’re entitled to – responding to what we heard from you, that levels of service differ across the country. And while allowing for local flexibility and innovation, it will allow disabled children and their families more informed decisions, a better understanding of how to access services, and clearer ways of providing feedback so that services can continue to improve.
- And as well as being clear on the minimum services and support that people can expect, we want those families to have the opportunity to be involved in decisions about what they will receive.
- So today’s report announces that, building on the successful features of direct payments, and retaining the principles of choice and control that they have offered, we will pilot Individual Budgets, recognising that individuals are best placed to understand their own needs and how to meet them, and putting them at the centre of the process.
- And the report also outlines how we will spread best practise on engaging disabled children and their families, such as through parents’ forums – so that they can have a voice at the local level, and contribute their expertise to shaping services. To make that happen we are today allocating funding for that work of £5 million, over the CSR period.
Responsive services and timely support
- As well as empowering families in these ways, and giving them a voice in the services they receive, we need to ensure that those services are responsive and accessible enough to deliver what will be asked of them – in a way that is designed around the child and the parents, and at the time that they are needed.
- I have seen an enormous amount of good practise around the country. But I have also heard from parents and young people who feel like they are missing out in their local area. I want to see disabled children considered as a priority in all local areas – as well as nationally.
- And to move towards that aim, the Government believes that disabled children should be reflected in any statement of national priority. So building on many local areas reflecting disabled children in their local indicators, we will develop – as part of the set of priority Public Service Agreements to be agreed across Government at the CSR – a national disabled children’s indicator.
- To make this work, it is important we have a fuller understanding of the disabled children in the UK, and of their needs – so that we can plan more fairly and more efficiently.
- To achieve that, Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts will build up a database of their population of disabled children, and the services they need, such as short breaks or therapy services, to help them commission and provide for their population. And the Government will also take forward further work to develop more consistent, compatible and comparable data, allowing us to understand what we should be doing in the future.
- That will be one way of increasing our understanding of what support the Government should be offering to the families of disabled children and young people. But of course another way in which we do that, and will continue to do that, is by listening to you – disabled children and young people, and those of you who live and work with disabled children every day.
- And so we listened to you during our consultation period. I talked earlier about the message you gave about service levels differing across the country, and how we have responded by setting out a clear entitlement – a core offer – and by making disabled children a local and national priority in the Performance Management Framework.
- Another thing you told us was that we needed a shift towards intervention earlier in children’s lives, and we have responded to that too. To encourage intervention at those early, key transition points, I am pleased to announce today additional resource for the new Centre for Children and Family Services, specifically to evaluate and benchmark good practise on early intervention.
- Of course, that does not mean moving away from interventions later in life. In fact, to improve intensive, co-ordinated support at the critical transition to adulthood, we will develop a Transition Support Programme, underpinned by almost £20m of investment, that will promote intensive, wrap- around support, and consolidate person-centred planning at this key point in the lives of disabled young people. In some areas this will involve key workers, a further step towards meeting the commitment in National Service Framework standard eight that Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts will ensure families have access to a key worker or care manager.
Service quality and capacity
- The report also announces new funding to improve the quality and capacity of the services we can offer to disabled children, young people, and their families – another clear message from our discussions with you during the course of the Review was the need for more support, and quality support.
- And there are some key areas where you were looking for more. Short breaks, for example, are vitally important to families across the country – taking the pressure off mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of disabled children.
- This is an issue that I have been aware of for a number of years. When I first entered Parliament, I was delighted to work with the disabled children’s sector – and particularly with the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, who drafted the Bill I introduced to give every family a right to a break. The Bill didn’t go forward – but as well as generating a huge amount of interest and support from families across the country, it did help raise awareness amongst my Parliamentary colleagues.
- So it was no surprise to see the level of Parliamentary support for the private member’s Bill introduced by Gary Streeter – and again drafted by the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign – earlier this year. That showed how many MPs, of all parties, recognise the need for families with disabled children to have a break.
- Short breaks, we know, reduce stress and reduce marital problems and breakdowns. They provide the opportunity to catch up on sleep – which every parent knows the benefit of – and provide the time to perform tasks that other parents take for granted. And we heard evidence at the Parliamentary hearings and throughout the Review’s consultations that short breaks were the number one service priority for families.
- Best practise short breaks are good for children, too – helping to tackle social isolation, providing access to leisure and friendship opportunities, and promoting development.
- When short breaks are not available, neither are these benefits – for either children or families. I have heard many times about how hard it can be when short breaks are cancelled – sometimes at short notice – because of staff shortages. For many families these breaks make the difference between coping and crisis.
And so I am particularly pleased that today’s report announces a specific grant of £280 million over the CSR period – money that will deliver a step change in the provision of short breaks, a substantial increase in the number of short breaks that we can provide, the equivalent of 40,000 more fortnightly short-breaks by the end of the Spending Review period. And to build on this investment, the NHS settlement later this year will also include additional funding to provide short breaks for disabled children with complex healthcare needs. Andrew will talk in more detail about how we will make our aims for short breaks a reality.
Today’s report also announces a childcare accessibility project. Underpinned by £35 million over the CSR period, this project will improve disability awareness, promote training, and tackle other barriers to accessing childcare. In the same way that our other policies offer parents the opportunity to work if they choose to, we want to ensure that this choice extends to the parents of disabled children – and to improve children’s social, behavioural and educational development.
- We are also continuing to focus on the issue of mobility, scoping and ultimately delivering a radical reform of community equipment and wheelchair provision, including the specific needs of children. Ivan will talk about that in more detail, and it is another reflection of how the Government – HMT, DfES, and the Department of Health – are working together on these issues. We’ll continue to work together during the CSR and, subject to its outcomes, the NHS settlement will also provide additional resources in 2010 to 2011 to update the stock of wheelchairs and improve the provision of community equipment.
- Alongside the review of provision already underway, that will help children access schools, leisure facilities and other services, and help to facilitate independent living – another step towards our goal of equality of opportunity: the best possible start in life for every child.
- So, as we move towards that goal, and as we aim higher for disabled children, today’s report delivers progress on a range of issues – and on all four aspects of the vision I outlined in February. It responds to the main points that you, and many others, have made to us during our work on this Review.
- And it announces a new, clear entitlement for disabled children, young people and their parents; greater empowerment for children and families to shape the way services are delivered; measures to ensure that our objectives in this area are met; a shift towards interventions earlier in children’s lives; and the money – over £340 million – to improve the services on offer – particularly on childcare accessibility, and on delivering a step change in short break provision.
- The commitments in the report will now be taken forward as part of this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
- But with today’s announcement, DfES can immediately start planning provision for the CSR to put into action many of the commitments in today’s report. We will continue to work together across Government – and I am delighted that Andrew and Ivan are here with me today, demonstrating the way in which we are working together on this issue – to ensure that the recommendations of this Review are fully reflected through the CSR.
- But as well as working closely within Government, we want to continue to work closely with those who best understand the needs of disabled children, young people and their families, and how to meet them. That includes the children and young people themselves, parents, professionals, academics, voluntary groups, community groups, local public services, and many more. And of course that includes many of you here today.
- So I would like to close today by saying thank you once again to you all – for your contribution to the point we have reached today. I believe that we have reached a set of recommendations and commitments that will make a real difference to all disabled children and their families, and create a local and national focus on disabled children as one of the Government’s priorities. And we would not have reached that point without you.
- And I would like to thank you for the contribution that I know you’ll continue to make in the future – because one of the things that always impresses me about the people involved in this area is how deeply they care about these issues. Over the last two years, I have met and spoken to many disabled children and their families. I have been struck by their determination that they have a right to be included equally in society, to make a positive contribution and ultimately to lead an ordinary life – an aspiration that all of us share.
- I hope that today’s report shows how deeply the Government cares about these issues too, that we are aiming high for disabled children, and that we are moving towards achieving that aspiration – and we look forward to continuing to work with you to make further progress, and make real change happen.
- So thank you for your contribution, and also for coming today and for listening. I am delighted to have been able to open this conference by announcing these new measures and new funding to support the work you are all doing for disabled children and their families.
- Thank you.