Disabled children face severe restrictions to play


Steve Rose Sense

By Steve Rose, Head of Children’s Specialist Services at Sense

Play is critical in giving children the best start in life and improving outcomes for children and their families. Unfortunately Sense has found that many families with disabled children across the country face severe restrictions accessing play.

At the end of February, Former Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Lord Blunkett launched our Case for Play report at a special event in Parliament.

It was the result of a three month inquiry into the provision of play opportunities for disabled children aged 0-5 with multiple needs in England and Wales. 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.

Failings at every level

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 also reveals that across the country, eight of ten parents have struggled to access a mainstream play setting and shockingly one in two disabled children have been turned away from play activities.

It is understandable that practitioners might not feel confident in meeting the needs of children with multiple needs. There is no one formula that works, no two children are the same, and parents have varying expectations. However, we need to learn from good practice settings, how to ensure that families are welcomed, barriers are broken down and that families want to return.

We also believe that training and awareness is key for local play settings. We are encouraging staff training on disability to help create an environment and ethos which is inclusive and developmentally appropriate. We also advocate that play organisations plan the admissions of every child to ensure their needs are met and that they are welcomed and understood by other parents and their children.

We are also calling for local authorities to consider modest retraining of health professionals to enable them to support play for children with multiple needs, provide easily-accessible information on existing play and support services and to lead on increasing awareness of disabled children in the local community.

Sense will also 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.

In such fiscally challenging times, unless we take action to secure support, children will miss out on the right to play, the chance to develop, and their opportunity to be active in the community.

Children with multiple needs face enough challenges, don’t let play be another thing that is cut, or another hurdle for families to conquer. Let’s make access to play a reality for all children.

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.

The full report can be downloaded at:

Steve Rose is a Health and Care Professions Council registered speech and language therapist specialising in working with people with deafblindness.   He has worked as a Specialist Speech and Language therapist in special schools in North London with children with physical disabilities, sensory impairments, autistic spectrum disorders and learning difficulties. In 2011 his dissertation focused on differences between deafblindness and Autism, as part of his MEd in deafblindness at Birmingham University. Currently, he is the lead professional advisor for deafblind children and young people and Head of Children’s Specialist Services at Sense.


This blog aims to promote discussion on play, the play sector and related policy issues. Guest blogs do not represent the views of Play England.

(1) Comment

  1. […] Access to play has been highlighted by the excellent report from Sense ‘The Case for Play’. It reveals that disabled children in England and Wales are missing out on play opportunities that are vital to their development. Play England welcomes the report and I am absolutely delighted that Steve Rose from Sense is our guest blogger for this month. Read his blog here. […]

Comments are closed.