Family Matters

In this blog, our Campaign Manager, Stephen Kingdom, reflects on the launch of the first part of the Children’s Commissioner for England’s Family Review and the importance of supporting families with disabled children.

On 1 September, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Rachel de Souza, published the first part of her Family Review.  I was delighted to be invited to the launch event and to speak with Rachel after it.  I was particularly pleased to hear her talk about the importance of respite care for families with disabled children.

Rachel’s report makes clear how important families are – to children and adults alike.  Happy and supportive families are a protective factor against adversity, and help children thrive now and in later life.  Yet we also know that the parents of disabled children are more likely to see their relationship breakdown.  And we know that lack of support is all too often the cause of that breakdown.  As the government both takes forward its reforms to the special educational needs and disability system and responds to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, it must ensure that families with disabled children get the support they need.

Our own research at the DCP found that 40% of parent carers have experienced relationship breakdown with a partner since diagnosis. Two thirds of those say a lack of support had a major impact on the breakdown of their relationship.

Even before the pandemic short break (or respite) services meant to give disabled children and their families a break were in a dire state.  During the pandemic, they all but completely disappeared and our research published in April this year found that had not yet returned to even their inadequate pre-pandemic level.

Families face late diagnosis, a battle with local authorities to be assessed for extra help and then a fight to make sure any support their child is entitled to is actually provided.  Families without support in the home have to make difficult decisions about which parent works.  Parents have to sacrifice their careers; turning down promotions and other opportunities.  All too often services do not get involved until families are at crisis point, and then it may be too late to save the parents’ relationship.

Having a disabled child is not what couples expect when they marry and the strain of diagnosis can be enormous. But with the right support – the support to which families are already legally entitled – then there is no reason why the family cannot thrive.  That means putting the right funding in place.  And it means making services properly accountable.

At her first Prime Minister’s Question time, Liz Truss committed to the government publishing its plan to reform children’s social care by the end of the year.  That must include clear and specific plans to provide the support that disabled children and their families need.