A CONFERENCE today [10 September 2013], hosted by Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, will hear that services for disabled youngsters and their families have declined significantly across Scotland, as the impact of public sector cuts is felt.
Based on the findings of new research he has commissioned, Tam Baillie will warn that there is a “real danger that children and young people’s entitlements under international conventions and UK and Scots law are being eroded”.
He will continue: “I call on local authorities, health boards and voluntary organisations to ensure they observe disabled children’s legislative rights and entitlements.”
Chaired by the broadcaster, Muriel Gray, conference delegates will hear from Dr Kirsten Stalker, author of the report produced for the Commissioner entitled, ‘It always comes down to money’.
Delegates will discuss the findings of that report which examines changes in the availability and accessibility of publicly-funded services for families with disabled children over the past two years. Top line research findings in Dr Stalker’s report include:
• Nearly nine in ten (87 per cent) of the 53 voluntary service organisations that responded, had experienced a cut in funding or a change in allocation procedures by public funders reducing their ability to support families.
• Some 81 per cent believed there had been some deterioration in their service provision, with 48 per cent limiting the number of people using their services.
• Parents in all ten focus groups held across Scotland reported withdrawals of, and reductions in, the support they receive from a range of services – local authority social work and education departments, FE colleges, voluntary organisations, health services and professions allied to medicine – over the last two years and attributed most of changes to financial cutbacks.
• A huge shortage of suitable social clubs and opportunities for young people was reported, the summer holidays being a particularly challenging time. Several holiday play schemes had closed.
• While there was widespread satisfaction with the quality of short breaks services, there was evidence of short breaks increasingly being used as crisis intervention rather than a preventative service.
• Many positive comments were made about the schools attended by children and young people but parents also described reduced staffing levels, resulting in inadequate physical care and decreased learning support.
• Parents reported reduced availability of occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy and long waiting lists for appointments and for aids and equipment.
• There was little evidence of parents being consulted about reductions in service provision; changes were often made without re-assessment or review of the child’s or family’s needs.
• There was great anxiety about the future, both in terms of further financial cutbacks and ‘welfare reform’ and the perceived ‘void’ of support and opportunities for young people when they leave school.
• Most of the young people who participated in the research, had experience of using a service such as speech and language therapy or physiotherapy which had then been withdrawn.
• Participants attended and enjoyed a wide range of social and recreational activities and while they reported being involved in choices about these, they seemed to have little input into more significant decisions about which support services they might use, and why.
• Loss of certain support was an issue for some older participants no longer eligible for children’s services. Some also expressed wider concerns about the move to adult life, including insufficient careers advice, support to prepare for job interviews and difficulties learning to drive.
Tam Baillie said: “There is evidence of cuts in local authority budgets leading to reductions in services alongside tighter eligibility criteria, support being removed without review or reassessment, and a lack of consultation.
“In many cases, the changes have resulted in stress, disappointment and frustration for disabled children, young people and their families.
“There is a real danger that children and young people’s entitlements under international conventions and UK and Scots law are being – and will continue to be – eroded, alongside the undermining of established good policy and practice and a shift away from preventative work, to crisis intervention.
“I am also particularly concerned about the lack of proper support and opportunities available to disabled young people as they move into adult life.
“In particular, there is a need for far more social and recreational opportunities for disabled children and young people, including those with life-limiting conditions.”
The key recommendation in the report is that local authorities, health boards and voluntary organisations must ensure they are observing disabled children’s legislative rights and entitlements:
• If a child is assessed as needing aids and equipment, practical help in the home, travel or recreational facilities, and is eligible for them, then according to legislation, the local authority must provide them.
• Under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, local authorities must consult with children and young people and take their views into account when making decisions. Parents also have a right to be consulted
• Local authorities should be aware that it is not good practice, and previous judicial review [see note 2] shows it can be unlawful, to reduce or withdraw services from disabled children or young people without proper re-assessment or review of their needs.
• COSLA should consider providing updated guidance about charging for services for disabled children, taking into account existing advice that families with disabled children should not be asked to pay more than they can afford.
• Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland should consider exploring the quality of services for disabled children and young people in Scotland and then along with Scottish Government, issue guidance to help improve services to disabled children, young people and their families.
For further information, contact Giselle Dye e: firstname.lastname@example.org or T: 0131 556 0770 mob: 07739 085023
1. Dr Stalker’s research covers local authority services, voluntary sector service providers, health services and professions allied to medicine and gathered the views of voluntary sector providers, disabled children, young people and their families. It followed on from previous research published by the Commissioner’s office which examined the use of eligibility criteria and assessment tools in services to disabled children and young people across Scotland. This concerns a High Court case against Gloucestershire County Council brought by Michael Barry.
2. The conference Service Provision To Disabled Children And Young People And Their Families In Scotland takes place on 10 SEPTEMBER 2013 9:30 – 15:30 at the Scottish Youth Theatre, Glasgow.
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