Disabled children 'deteriorating' during lockdown, said York-based charity given £10m emergency grant

DISABLED children have seen their health and wellbeing deteriorate during the coronavirus lockdown, as support from specialist schools is taken away and hospital appointments are put on hold, a York-based charity has found.

Family Firsts chief executive Cheryl Ward. Picture: Family First

Family Fund, which on Tuesday received a £10m emergency grant from the Government to help families most in need of support, said the absence of routine support, added together with the pressures of lockdown life are all heaping strain on families with children that are living with disabilities or seriously ill.

It conducted two surveys with families, a month apart, to track the impact of the pandemic, and found that 94 per cent of families said the health and wellbeing of their disabled or seriously ill children had been negatively affected, an increase from 89 per cent in first few weeks of the lockdown.

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Almost nine out of ten said their child’s behavior and emotions were negatively affected, and 82 per cent reported a negative effect on their mental health

Almost two thirds, 62 per cent, said their access to formal support services for their child, such as physiotherapy and mental health services, has declined since the Coronavirus outbreak.

Three in ten struggled to afford food and a quarter of parent carers admit to missing meals in the last two weeks.

Family Fund's chief executive Cheryl Ward said: “Our findings make apparent the strain that this

pandemic is creating for disabled children and their families.

“Many of these children are missing the routine and in-depth support that special schools provide, as well as professional services such as speech and language therapy, hospital appointments to monitor and support their medical conditions, and evens scans and operations that have had to be paused.

“The challenge of caring for children with complex needs, alongside coping with the ongoing stress of Coronavirus, is taking a huge toll on families.

“Our surveys tell us that the biggest concerns they have are around educating and entertaining their disabled or seriously ill children at home, and their children’s health and wellbeing.

“With this additional £10 million of funding Family Fund can make an incredible difference, providing practical and essential grant support to help improve the quality of life and ease some of the additional daily pressures faced in these difficult times by many disabled children and their families.”

Families raising disabled children on low incomes are being urged to apply for grants to ease the pressure while following social distancing measures, including computers and tablets,

outdoor play equipment and sensory toys, or household essentials like washing machines, fridges or beds.

The funding comes from a £37m Department of Education funding pot to support children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) during the Covid-19 crisis.

Research and impact manager at Family Fund, Richard Hughes, said that its research indicated that even if families were able to return to pre-coronavirus levels of income, they would be left with “financial scars” that would require a long recovery.

He added: “As with the financial legacy, the findings from the research also suggest there is going to be a lasting human cost to this outbreak.

“Families won’t quickly be able to recover from the mental and emotional challenges of going without respite for months on end.

“Children won’t quickly be able to return to a routine that works for them, and they won’t quickly be able to recover physically or mentally from going without support they depend on for so long.

“The additional £10m of funding will go a long way in helping us to address the immediate needs of many families raising disabled or seriously ill children in England, getting them the things they need right now.

“However, in the long-term, it is critical that we and other organisations come together to continue to listen, respond and deliver to the needs of these families, to make the ‘new normal’ better than what preceded it.”

Vicky Ford, Children and Families Minister, said: "Our first priority remains the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities.

"I know that these unprecedented times may put additional pressure on families, particularly those whose children have the most complex needs, and these parents deserve some extra help to look after and educate them at home.

"From computers and tablets to household items that many of us take for granted, this new funding will directly benefit tens of thousands of families, making sure parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities get the support they need at this difficult time and beyond."

Family Fund has reached out to 4,500 families since lockdown began.