Finding high quality childcare that meets your family's needs is often challenging. And if your child has special needs of any sort - whether a physical disability, chronic medical condition, learning difficulties, behavioural issues, communication problems or severe allergies - it can be particularly problematic.
A recent survey by the Family and Childcare Trust revealed that only 15 per cent of councils in England have enough childcare for disabled children. So it's perhaps unsurprising that in 72 per cent of families with a disabled child, one or both parents have cut back on or given up paid work because of childcare difficulties, according to a 2014 parliamentary enquiry. For many, the consequence is a poverty trap - disabled children in the UK are far more likely than their non-disabled peers to live in deprived circumstances.
If your child has additional needs of any sort, it's worth making contact with your local authority as early as possible to to find out about your childcare choices and any financial support that may be available. If you are unsure who to approach, your child's health visitor or GP should be able to offer advice or make a referral.
If you think your child would be best suited to mainstream childcare provision, whether a daycare nursery, registered childminder, preschool, creche or kids' club, the care provider is legally obliged (under the Equality Act 2010) to make 'reasonable adjustments' to their service and premises to accommodate your child's needs. Each UK jurisdiction (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) also has a code of practice giving practical advice to local authorities and childcare and education professionals on identifying, assessing and accommodating children's additional needs.
If specialist daycare would be more appropriate for your child, your local authority should be able to tell you about any daycare provision specifically for disabled children, as well as about home childcarers who may be able to offer one-to-one care in your own home.
Recently, there have been some helpful developments. Children with special needs in England can now get 15 hours of free early education a week during term-time from the term following their second birthday (and all preschoolers aged three and four in all parts of the UK are entitled to some free early education). The new UK-wide tax-free childcare scheme, to be introduced in 2017, will cover 20 per cent of a maximum childcare cost of £20,000 a year for disabled children aged up to 17 - which will help the 82 per cent of working families of disabled children who pay above-average childcare costs.
When parents want to work and have access to reliable, affordable, good quality childcare, they benefit financial, socially and psychologically - which in turn benefits their children. This is true for families of children with special needs just as much as any other family. If you need advice on finding the right childcare for your SEN child, the charity Contact a Family (www.cafamily.org.uk) and the local groups that make up the National Network of Parent Carer Forums (www.nnpcf.org.uk) are great sources of information and support.
Elyssa Campbell-Barr has been writing about childcare and education for more than 15 years. She was editor of Who Minds?, the National Childminding Association magazine, from 1999â2006, and editor of The Teacher magazine from 2006â2014. She has written about childcare and early education for many other organisations and publications, including Ofsted, Sure Start, Nursery World, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey), and NetMums. As the working mother of a three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son, she has very recent and relevant experience of the book's topics.
Comprehensive, independent, up to date, and packed with parents' real-life experiences and tips, Choosing Childcare is an essential addition to any parent's bookshelf. Available from all good bookshops and Amazon RRP only Â£9.99 (published by Matador, 28th May 2016).