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Disabled children: The Inclusion Charter

| 15 May 2007

Children Now, working with the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, has drawn up a charter to make sure that disabled children are not left out of service provision. Joe Lepper finds out how this vision can become reality.

Inclusion is a right

All children have the right to be included in every aspect of society.Disabled children should not have to ask or fight to be included in thethings that other children do. Inclusion is a right in UK law (theDisability Discrimination Acts) and international law (UN Conventions onthe Rights of the Child and the Rights of Persons withDisabilities).

What should happen:

The Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which launches in October,needs to ensure that the legal rights of disabled children are beingenforced and where appropriate initiate court proceedings. Too oftenthis is left up to parents, many of whom do not have the time and energyto start a potentially lengthy legal battle.

Ofsted inspectors need to give greater emphasis to inclusion wheninspecting schools and childcare facilities. Disability campaignersacknowledge that inclusion is already part of inspectors' remit but theybelieve the issue should be given a higher profile in inspectionreports. It is vital that good practice is praised and those that arefailing to include all children are given the support they need toimprove.

The Government needs to consider changing existing legislation tostrengthen the legal right of disabled children to be included.Disability charity Scope, for example, is keen to see the abolition ofsection 316 of the Education Act 1996. This states that any child can goto a mainstream school, unless it is against the wishes of the parent orthat placement would be incompatible with the "efficient education ofother children". Too many head teachers are using this caveat tounfairly refuse places to disabled children, says Scope.

INCLUSION IS ABOUT ALL OF LIFE

"We want to be part of society."

Inclusion is a process of change where all children are valued in everyaspect of their life and in the life of their community.

What should happen:

New building projects need to be safe and accessible for all children,and developers and builders should actively consult with disabilitygroups, disabled children and their families to help them make buildingdecisions that support rather than hinder inclusion.

Inclusion in school is not just about the classroom; it should permeateall aspects of school life, particularly the playground where childrenwith disabilities are too often the victims of bullying. A House ofCommons Education and Skills Select Committee report on bullying,published this year, found that often it is the victims of bullyingrather than the bullies themselves that are being excluded. Thecommittee called on councils to draw up more robust advice to schools indealing with bullies' behaviour and for all schools to be required tospecifically mention disability-related bullying in their anti-bullyingpolicies. Other ways schools can combat bullying and make playgroundsmore inclusive is to consider buddying initiatives.

Transport must not be forgotten and must be properly resourced. There isno point in having a fully inclusive school, after-school activity orplay scheme if the child cannot get to it.

INCLUSION MEANS NO-ONE IS LEFT OUT

Inclusion means all children, whatever their impairment, wherever theylive and however they communicate.

What should happen:

Organisations should not assume that inclusion means sharing the samelocation. Many disability rights experts concede that in some cases,particularly those with complex health issues and severe behaviouralproblems, it may not be in the child's best interests to take part in anactivity in the same location. But this should not mean they are leftout from the activity altogether. Similarly, if a building is not safeor accessible for all children, consider using one that is, or ensuringthat children can still take part, even if it is elsewhere.

Organisations and providers should not leave parents out. Activities forchildren are often family events and by denying a child access, parentsare also being denied the opportunity to meet other parents. Children'scentres should actively tackle social exclusion faced by parents byarranging social events. One scheme run by Scope at Walton's Children'sCentre, Liverpool, for example, involves a face-to-face network,involving parents of non-disabled and disabled children.

INCLUSION STARTS EARLY

From the very earliest age, disabled children should have the right toplay and learn with other children, enjoying all aspects of life andfriendships.

What should happen:

Consider co-locating special and mainstream schools. That way closerlinks can be forged and awareness of disability issues can beraised.

Children's centres need to ensure that all activities and services, suchas nurseries, are inclusive.

Health visitors and other early years professionals need to ensure thatassessments are carried out for disabled children at the earliestopportunity. Crucially, councils and primary care trusts need to ensurethat children are then supported by the resources needed to effectivelyplan care services around the child. According to the National AutisticSociety, 45 per cent of parents said they had to wait a year to startreceiving support after their child was diagnosed with an autisticspectrum disorder. Early intervention is key as it will aid the progressof the child in the long run.

Children with disabilities should not have to rely on statements toensure they receive a good education. There should be a guaranteed fullassessment when they first start school.

INCLUSION MEANS EVERYONE IS HEARD

"We want to be respected."

All children have the right to communicate. Some express views withoutusing speech and services must respond.

What should happen:

Government needs to ensure that legislation guaranteeing disabledchildren a say in their lives and community is being adhered to at alocal level. Consultation with children, whether it be about their ownlives, their school or community, should be designed to include allchildren. Simply listening and talking to children needn't require extraresources but does require a change in attitude.

Communication issues should be addressed and not seen as insurmountablebarriers. Frontline services need to invest in communication supportservices, and when consulting children use of pictures and othernon-verbal forms of communication should be considered. Bring in outsidesupport from specialist advocacy services where necessary.

Often communication adjustments can be very simple, such as using morepictures on timetables and making sure that children can take part in anactivity or learn in a calming, distraction-free environment.

INCLUSION IS EVERYONE'S RESPONSIBILITY

"We want to go where other children go."

Disabled children are not just the responsibility of specialistdisability services. All services need to ensure that disabled childrencan take part in everything they do.

What should happen:

Councils should work more closely with all professionals involved withdisabled children. Some councils have benefited from joint workingarrangements, whereby social services, primary care trusts, voluntarysector and families with disabled children work together oncommissioning and even the strategic direction of services. Key benefitsalready seen include a seamless service for children as well asimprovements in training.

The views of disabled children and their families need to be included incouncils' children and young people's plans. This helps to ensure thattheir views and needs permeate throughout services and are at the heartof provision for children.

Councils need to be thinking about disability at the highest level andacross all departments. Too often disability is seen as theresponsibility of a specialist team. Inclusion and awareness of theneeds of disabled children should be the responsibility of alldepartments and all officers, from housing to planning and fromeducation to parks and recreation.

INCLUSION IS BUILT IN

Everyone who works with children must have training in disabilityequality to equip them with the skills and knowledge to ensure disabledchildren are able to participate.

What should happen:

All staff that work with children should either have training insupporting disabled children or have access to skilled professionals.Children's centres in the same locality, for example, should considerpooling their expertise and organising joint training programmes. Theyshould also consider appointing an expert for a cluster of children'scentres.

All organisations working with children should consider makingexperience of supporting disabled children a requirement of at least onejob role. Often the best way for staff to develop professionally is tolearn from their colleagues.

Organisations and schools should also consider a whole-school approach,involving all professionals, including teachers, playground supervisorsand classroom assistants. A key concern is the lack of training amongteachers surrounding special educational needs. Disability campaignerssay that children are often being left out because teachers do not havethe skills to make even simple changes to the curriculum that wouldenable children with disabilities to be included.

INCLUSION BENEFITS EVERYONE

Inclusion benefits all children and young people, as well as adults. Itpromotes citizenship and helps create a society that celebratesdifference and is at ease with itself.

What should happen:

When making changes to improve inclusion such as building work,timetable changes in school, or even school co-location, it is vitalthat all parents are consulted. This is key to changing attitudes andmakes all parents feel that they are included in policy decisions ratherthan having decisions forced upon them. Too often parents ofnon-disabled children have a misconception that inclusion is somethingthat will harm their children's education or experience of anactivity.

Disability awareness should be built into schools' citizenshipcurriculum to ensure that it is taught to everyone. This would helpstamp out prejudice and provide a cornerstone for disability awarenessfor generations.

Promotional activity needs to take place to make people aware thatinclusion is not just an issue for disabled people. A range of peoplemay feel excluded from any aspect of society. If an organisation isaddressing inclusion for disabled people then that will benefit allusers.

INCLUSION WORKS

All over the country, right now, there are thousands of examples whereinclusion is working. Disabled children can and should be included inevery area of life.

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