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Early support for deaf and disabled children - looking for evidence with one eye closed?

Published Date: 02 Apr 2019

Helping families before problems emerge has been gathering weight as an idea for quite a few years now and is clearly recognised as beneficial to families with deaf and disabled children. Whilst its benefits are espoused by many MPs, elected councillors and frontline workers in local authorities across the UK, we still lack a fully joined-up approach to ensure the support is available and accessible to deaf and disabled children.


For some years now local authorities have been required by central government to submit various statistical data on social care provision, for example how many children and families received support, the age, sex and ethnicity of the child and what the outcomes were. Ofsted request to see some of this statistical data as one of the measures they use to inform their inspections of local authorities (‘Annex A of the ILACS framework’ for those nerds out there!).

In a bid to follow the national data set, Ofsted ask local authorities about numbers of early help assessments undertaken on children, but don’t ask whether any of these children are disabled. Yet in all the other statistical data questions in Annex A on statutory social care support, they require data on whether a child is disabled. Possible reasons for this gap could be that early help services are not a statutory requirement for local authorities to provide, and as a result, can be provided in different ways meaning there is no robust, and nationally comparable definition. Whilst this may be so, requesting this information would still be useful to support local authority planning in their support to deaf and disabled children and knowing whether they are accessing local services or not.

Anne Pinney’s report for the Council for Disabled Children states that disabled children do not appear to be accessing statutory social care and are more likely being supported in early help, but in truth we don’t know as this data is not being collected by the government. This is despite the government acknowledging that deaf and disabled children are more vulnerable and that we afford them key social care rights to ensure they are getting the right support if, or when, they need it.

In October 2017 Eleanor Schooling of Ofsted acknowledged that “Overall, there is a lack of preventative strategies to protect disabled children” . And in December 2018 Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, acknowledged cuts to early help.

Given the statistical infrastructure is already in place, widening it to see if disabled children are getting early help support seems a minor commitment – which would acknowledge the additional vulnerabilities of deaf and disabled children. Indeed, in my research for this piece I have come to same conclusion as Pinney who says we must introduce a national data set for children and young people receiving support through early help, linked to children in need census data.

Chris Mullen

Chris is Social Care Policy Advisor at the National Deaf Children's Society.