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Your childcare rights: Northern Ireland

Knowing what your legal rights are can help you make sure that you and your child get the support you need. Sometimes, just showing that you’re aware of your rights can quickly nip any problems in the bud.

The law provides disabled children in Northern Ireland with a number of rights and protections. All permanently deaf children will meet the definition of disability.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 and the Disability Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 mean that public bodies, including local authorities and childcare providers:

  • Can’t discriminate against your child. In other words, a childcare provider can’t refuse to accept your child simply because they are deaf. They also can’t treat your child less favourably than other children by, for example, not allowing them to do certain activities that other children are able to do.
  • Must make reasonable adjustments.
  • Must promote equality of opportunity for disabled children.

If a child is disadvantaged by something that the setting does, and if there are any simple or inexpensive things that the setting can do to overcome this, they must do it. This is known as making reasonable adjustments.

Examples of reasonable adjustments

  • Making sure there are subtitles on the TV if showing a children’s programme.
  • Staff receiving training on how to use a radio aid.
  • If the reading corner is in an area with poor acoustics or lighting, moving to somewhere better for your child.

Most reasonable adjustments cost little or nothing and are relatively easy to put in place. You have an important role to play in letting the childcare know what steps they can take to support your child.

What is reasonable will depend on their size and financial resources. It may be easier for a local authority or a large nursery to make a reasonable adjustment than it is for a small childminder.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland provides more information about disability legislation in Northern Ireland, as well as an advice line.

Your child has special educational needs (SEN) if they have or are likely to have much more difficulty in learning than other children of the same age. Most but not all deaf children will be viewed as having an SEN – this can depend on the approach taken in the local area to identifying and labelling children’s needs.

Nurseries should follow the Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs. This means that nurseries should:

  • ensure that children with SEN have the greatest possible access to the curriculum
  • work in partnership with parents
  • know how to get further information and advice if they need it, including from Teachers of the Deaf.

If you feel that your child has needs that go beyond what the childcare provider can reasonably provide or are likely to be able to provide, you have the right to ask the local authority to carry out a statutory assessment of your child’s needs. This may lead to a statement of special educational needs. This is a legal document which sets out the support that the local authority must provide.

You have the right to appeal if the local authority refuses to carry out a statutory assessment or to appeal over the contents of a statement.

More information on the special educational needs system in Northern Ireland.

Nurseries, playgroups and childminders are registered and inspected by Early Years Teams. These are specialist teams of social workers within Health and Social Care Trusts.

Social workers from the Trusts will normally visit each provider once a year to check:

  • that the premises are safe
  • that the staff working there are suitable
  • that the level of care is good.

You can contact the Early Years teams to ask for more information on the quality of local childcare and for copies of the most recent inspection reports.

The Education and Training Inspectorate also inspect pre-schools to look at the:

  • quality of the children’s development and learning, as well as the quality of teaching, planning and assessment
  • pastoral care and safeguarding
  • quality of leadership and management
  • teaching, planning and assessment.

Inspectors usually provide an oral report, rather than a written report, to the pre-school at the end of the day.

If the pre-school is part of a primary school, the two may be inspected at the same time.

The Northern Ireland government doesn’t provide free childcare. However, they do run a pre-school education programme where every child should have at least one year of pre-school education funded. This applies to children whose third birthday is on or before 1 July of the year they could attend pre-school. Each provider will have its own admissions criteria. The Department of Education has more information about how you can apply for a place.

If you have any concerns, try discussing it with the manager of the childcare facility. In most cases, you should be able to resolve any problems with them directly. Depending on the type of childcare, they may have a complaints policy.

If this doesn’t address your concern or your concern is urgent, you may wish to contact the Early Years teams in your area or our Freephone Helpline.