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Lord Blunkett unveils report that finds disabled children are missing out on play opportunities vital to their development

February 24, 2016

A press release:

Nine out of ten parents of disabled children say their child does not have the same opportunities to access play, compared to non-disabled children. One in two disabled children have been turned away from play settings and activities.


Negative attitudes towards disability a major barrier highlighted

Lord Blunkett is to reveal detailed findings of the inquiry and recommendations at Parliament on Wednesday 24 February

(London, UK – 24 February 2016) – A report by the national deafblind charity, Sense, today reveals the severe restrictions facing disabled children in accessing play. The report identifies failings at every level that result in disabled children missing out on play opportunities that are vital to their emotional, social and physical  development. A lack of attention by government, insufficient funding at a local level and negative attitudes towards disabled children and their families are all barriers highlighted in the report.

The report calls for urgent action to address these inequalities and to enable the Prime Minister to deliver on his recent call to improve the “life chances” of all children.

Due to be launched in Parliament this afternoon, the report follows a three month public inquiry into the provision of play opportunities for disabled children aged 0-5 with multiple needs in England and Wales. Chaired by former Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Lord Blunkett, the inquiry was established in response to parents’ concern that they had fewer opportunities to access play services and settings than families with non-disabled children.

Chair of the Play Inquiry, Lord Blunkett, said:

“We know that play is vitally important for children with multiple needs and their families, bringing a wide range of developmental and emotional benefits. However, our inquiry found that all too often the parents of children with multiple-needs point to barriers they face in accessing and enjoying play. It means that disabled children don’t have the same chance to form friendships, and parents are prevented from taking a break from caring. Both disabled children and their parents are excluded from their own communities.

“I know that there is strong support across the political spectrum for addressing the findings of this report, and I look forward to working with colleagues from all parties to achieve real change for parents and families across the nation.”

Key findings from the report:


  • 92% of parents felt that their child did not have the same opportunities to play as their non-disabled peers, and 81% of parents reported difficulties in accessing mainstream play groups and local play opportunities.

·        51% of children had been turned away from play settings by providers, failing to meet their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010.

·        95% of parents said that parents of children with multiple-needs require support to find ways to play with their children.

  • Majority of parents had experienced negative attitudes towards their child from other parents and most considered this to be the most significant barrier to accessing mainstream play.


·        40% of parents said that additional financial costs was a major barrier to accessing play opportunities

  • 63% of parents said they didn’t have enough information on accessible play opportunities in their area, and word of mouth is commonly used in place of official sources of information.

  • Families feel there is a lack of specialist support that can be accessed locally, and many make long journeys to access play settings.


  • There is a lack of strategic approach to funding play for children with multiple needs at local and national levels across England, with no notional funding for special educational needs and provision in the early years


Key recommendations from the report:

National policy:


·        Greater investment in play as part of early years funding to support play in the home and in mainstream services.

·        Developmental play services such as Portage should become a statutory service for disabled children under the age of two, with an increased emphasis on children with multiple needs.

·        Play should be a key strand of the Government’s policy on parenting and should be an explicit part of government-funded parenting classes.

·        The Equality and Human Rights Commission should investigate the exclusion of children with multiple needs from mainstream play settings, and take action to enforce the Equality Act 2010.



Local policy:


·        Local authorities should be required to take action, as necessary, against settings which intentionally exclude disabled children and fail to meet their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010.

·        Local authorities should take a lead on increasing awareness and understanding of the general public and other parents about disabled children. This could be centrally funded but locally delivered.

·        Local authorities should consider whether there could be a modest retraining of existing health professionals to enable them to provide the support needed to help families of children with multiple needs to play.

·        Local authorities should provide easily-accessible information for parents to help them to find out about existing play and support services.

Play settings:


  • Settings should ensure that play staff have received training on disability to help improve the way they support children and families.  This should include responding to medical needs and communicating with children with specialist communication needs.  The training should also enable them to create an environment and ethos which is inclusive and developmentally appropriate.

·        Every play setting should have a play policy statement which stresses the inclusion of every child.

·        Settings should plan carefully prior to the admission of every child in order to ensure their needs are met and that they will be welcomed and understood by other parents and their children.

·        Voluntary sector organisations should do more to share their significant experience of supporting children with specific impairments and multiple needs with public and private play settings.  This could include offering training and toolkits on inclusive play.


Sense Deputy CEO, Richard Kramer, said:

“Play is critical in giving children the best start in life and improving outcomes for children and their families. The report makes clear, however, that where a child has multiple needs, the barriers they face to accessing play settings and activities are also multiplied. We hope that local and national policymakers, as well as play professionals, reflect on today’s recommendations, and make the necessary changes that will make access to play a reality for all children.”

Sense will use the inquiry findings to campaign for changes to the way play services are designed and delivered. They plan to produce a series of toolkits for parents, providers and commissioners of play.

The full report can be downloaded at:

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