Sharon Hodgson speaking at the launch of the Sense Inquiry into disabled children's access to play settings and schemes - 24th February 2016
Image copyright Office of Sharon Hodgson MP
As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon was invited to speak at the launch of Sense's inquiry report into the access opportunities to play settings and schemes for disabled children, where she welcomed the findings of the report and the need for policy-makers, charities, play providers and families of disabled children to work together to call on the Government to do more to address this disparity.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Thank you for having me along today.
It is such an honour to be here and support the launch of such an important report.
Already we have heard some wonderful speeches, including Lord Blunkett’s eloquent run through of the report’s recommendations and Leslie Rogers talking about her experiences of Play and highlighting just how important it is to children lives, especially those with SEND.
I, of course, am not going to differ greatly (if at all) from what has already been said by our two previous speakers.
For me, it is important that all children have the opportunity to explore and experience the world around them through play. Yet, sometimes, this can be harder for SEND children.
As many of us here in this room will know, there are multiple and complex needs of a child with SEND and early childhood can be a stressful time in that child’s life.
From medical appointments, health interventions and medical therapies, it can be one thing after another for a child who only wants to enjoy their childhood and live a care-free life.
That is why it is important that children with SEND, and their families, are enabled to access play schemes so that that child can experience as normal a childhood as possible – just like all of their peers, allowing a child to access play settings allows them that escape and respite to just be a child and relax in that moment where all that matters is how much fun they are going to have.
For parents, it is a beautiful moment that they can see their child doing exactly what they always wanted them to do as a child – have fun.
In the report, there is one quote which sticks out for me on this.
“Play is so important; it helped him realise he existed. Before that he was not doing anything – just lying down.”
This is such a powerful quote which hits home about exactly why play, and the access to play is so vital to disabled children’s lives.
It allows them to be a child.
Yet, the reality does not always seem to be the case.
As this inquiry found:
- 51% of children had been intentionally excluded from play opportunities by providers …
- 40% of families said they faced additional financial costs when seeking access to play settings …
- And, families felt there was a lack of specialist support on offer locally and had to travel further afield to access the right kind of play setting.
These findings are damning in highlighting the reality that many of those here in this room have experienced with their own children.
And it is up to us Parliamentarians from across the House to work to ensure that the right kind of policy is implemented that benefits these children.
No matter what their circumstances, children deserve the best start in life and for many this can come through play opportunities where they can expand their minds, enjoy their childhood and be amongst their peers.
That is why it is so important that Sense’s inquiry has been published today and makes a strong case to Government and policy-makers to improve the access to play opportunities for disabled children with multiple needs.
Labour has a proud record of campaigning for better services for disabled children, which most recently was seen in our efforts to review childcare for disabled children during the passing of the Childcare Bill to make sure those children did not miss out on high-quality provisions.
That is why I can assure you that the disparity seen by families with disabled children accessing play is something I am fully aware of and I cannot stress how much I support calls for better provision and will press Government to take action on this by working closely with Sense, providers of play settings and those who access these settings to ensure that parity is achieved for all children.
This fantastic report will aide my work as Labour’s Shadow Children’s Minister and the development of our future policy proposals around play settings and the access for disabled children.
Again, thank you for inviting me along to talk to you all today.
I hope you have all had a wonderful day and I look forwarded to meeting many of you after the other speeches.
You can find out more about the inquiry and Sharon's reaction post-reception by following this link here.