Last February, I wrote about why our residential location suited us and Isobel – that is, until Benedict was born.
Since then, we have decided to stay put and build an extension instead. (More about this in a future post.) We had very good reasons for this that were nothing to do with living in a much-sought-after Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We had managed to secure mainstream nursery places for both our children locally – a huge achievement in light of both the nursery being over-subscribed and Isobel’s own statement taking nearly a year to process. Having already won a place with PACE’s nursery too, once completed, she would be transferred to their brand-new Early Years Centre just up the road.
In staying where we were, we’d keep to a minimum not just travel costs, but also time spent travelling to Isobel’s appointments at the local hospital and elsewhere. We’d reduce time spent negotiating council support of non-local services for her via telephone text relay – a service aimed at deaf people that is itself time-consuming. And in avoiding a house move, we’d also avoid having to re-construct Isobel’s statement, and possibly having to fight again for her continued attendance of the same dual nursery placement in principle.
As every family knows, time with our children is precious – and ours is even more so, given how much we already have to put aside for our daughter.
When does time sacrificed become time wasted? When it’s unnecessary. Bureaucracy we can’t avoid; battling with decisions we could do without, but only happens because people don’t listen to us – even though as Isobel’s parents, bringing her up on a day-to-day basis, we know her better than anyone else except Isobel herself.
This shouldn’t happen, ever. We shouldn’t have to work so hard to ensure that she gets the high-quality support she needs, at the expense of our own quality of life together as a family. Ben deserves time spent getting to know not just his sister, but also us as his parents. We deserve time off for respite and quality time together alone. Isobel deserves to have a specialist nursery close to home, so we can rush to her side in times of trouble, just like we can with her brother.
At the moment, this isn’t so easy to do. Until PACE’s brand-new Early Years Centre is launched, Isobel has to use council transport in order to get to the nursery 30 minutes’ drive away.
Even though this free service has been arranged in recognition of the lack of an appropriate local specialist service – and even though we signed off risk assessments and health & safety forms in agreement – I still worry whenever Isobel is late home from PACE. Of course, that is usually due to bad traffic, but I just can’t get out of my head the fact that at such a young age, she is travelling with virtual strangers over a longer distance without us.
This is not like sending a non-disabled child away to preparatory school when they reach the age of six. As a disabled child with hardly any speech or signing skills, Isobel is particularly vulnerable to abuse, neglect and discrimination. That she is likely to be spending more time in the care of strangers than her brother, further away from home, is an irony that highlights the scarcity of appropriate services for children with disabilities across the UK.
This video, from Scope’s Keep Us Close campaign, highlights how widespread the issue is.
But we are the lucky ones. We at least have the opportunity to send Isobel to a brand-new specialist nursery closer to home – if not now, then soon. More than six in ten parents can’t even get the services they need in their local area and are fighting tough, long battles to find them elsewhere. Just 1 in 10 parents find the process of accessing their services locally simple.
Not having access to suitable services near home is taking a massive toll on families with disabled children. Half are missing out on quality time that families with non-disabled children take for granted – celebrating birthdays, playing together or going swimming. Strained relationships between parents and relationships with their children further compound the stress and anxiety, along with the struggle to hold down jobs and maintain financial security.
I know N and I have had our tough times. The fact that we are still together after all the pain, anxiety, stress and depression we’ve had to endure is testimony to our strength as a couple. At the end of the day though, we are as human as any other family with disabled children, and we never, ever want to go through all that again, not just for our sakes but also Isobel and Ben’s.
Those who have viewed and commented on my blog regularly since June 2010 – when I first wrote about Isobel’s diagnosis – will know exactly what I mean. We are very lucky to have two very beautiful and happy children, and we are not prepared to compromise our time with them for another protracted fight on our hands. But unless something is done about it NOW, we may as well join the half of the estimated 500,000 families with disabled children in the UK doing just that.
If you believe in supporting such families – and you agree that they deserve to spend quality time with their children, just like their non-disabled counterparts do – then please join Scope in their Keep Us Close campaign, which calls for the government to build a ‘Provide Local Principle’ in the Children and Families Bill.
What is the Children and Families Bill?
The Children and Families Bill – which is currently being discussed in Parliament – is meant to make it easier for parents of disabled children to access the services they need. Essentially it will:
- require local authorities to publish a ‘Local Offer’ of services they expect to be available in the local area
- put a new duty on local agencies like education and the health services to collaborate more efficiently in planning and commissioning services for disabled children
However, Scope does not think it will guarantee accessible, high-quality, inclusive local services. It won’t remove the need to travel to get the support they need, or even the decision to be away from their child.
So Scope is calling on the Government to include a ‘Provide Local Principle’ in the Children and Families Bill, ensuring that when councils plan and evaluate local services, they have to make the provision of support close to home a priority.
If the ‘Local Offer’ does not provide good enough inclusive and accessible services for local families in your area, the Principle will also ensure that the local authority has a duty to improve it to a standard that they are happy with. This quote from a London mum sums up my feelings about Scope’s proposed motion.
“It would be mind-blowing. It would mean togetherness and building relationships. It would just be heaven-sent, that for once in our life, we could do things like any normal family does.”
Visit Scope’s Keep Us Close campaign to find out how you can get involved.
An edited version of this post will appear in The Huffington Post shortly.