Fair Play For Children
Promoting the Child's Right to Play since 1973 in the UK and Worldwide according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
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PLAY FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

The International Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by the United Kingdom, includes the Right to Play (Article 31) - this means that the need of every child to play, and to have adequate resources to do so, must be respected. Children having special needs, such as physical or mental disabling conditions or who are at risk or significantly deprived in other ways, may need special help and resources.

Often such children are denied their chance to play because adults are afraid of including them in mainstream provision. Most, in fact, can manage very well with the same attention a wise playworker gives to every child in the group.

The derivation of the word 'handicapped' reaches back many centuries: a good explanation can be accessed here at snopes.com.

A few children may need adaptations to the building, so a wheel chair can pass through a doorway or up a ramp, or lift, or onto structures. Some may need a clamp to hold their art work still, or a pair of eyes to enable them to find something. Mainstream children or their handicapped peers often can give the help needed in a sensitive way - but this applies as a playwork principle to anyone in the group needing help. In many circumstances, the disabled child can help the mainstream with something the latter could not do before just as much as the latter could help him/her.

THE CHILDREN ACT

The Children Act 1989 includes children who are disabled as being children in need, and this means that every Social Services Department must make adequate provision in a wide number of regards. The Act, under Section 17, defines that Social Services must make a range of provision and services for disabled children and their families, and Section 18 provides for adequate day care provision for under-5s who are in need and adequate after-schoool and holiday care for those of school age. (These services can be extended to children not defined to be in need presumably in a preventative mode and/or where Social Services is seeking a community-based service in which disabled children and others in need can benefit from and participate in a general community service devised to take full account of their needs). Emphasis is placed in Section 17 on all such services being provided by voluntary bodies where possible. Parents and children can now make representations under the Act if they feel they are being denied adequate services.

"Look for each childs talents and abilities."

Playworkers need to be aware of mundane but important issues, such as medication to be taken, at what times, or allergies and the avoidance of causes, or how to deal with any form of fit, attack or regular difficulty - often, it will be a case of working with the child in procedures known to him/her by daily rote. Dealing with crises and coping with emergencies should form part of playwork first aid, and any playwork provision should ensure that there is a worker/volunteer trained to the necessary standard (and to Children Act requirements where the provision has to be registered) for each session held. Information on existing good practice may be accessed through the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham which runs an integrated play service, and many areas run first aid courses for playworkers dealing with special needs situations, and this element is included in the Leeds and Thurrock Playwork Diploma Courses. Other voluntary organisations, such as MENCAP, Spastics Society, Save the Children, Toy Libraries Association/ACTIVE also run courses.

Literature on play work and children with special needs is published by a range of organisations such as MENCAP, Spastics Society, Save The Children, Toy Libraries Association/ACTIVE, HAPA, Contact-A-Family, Kith and Kids etc The latter two also run groups as does PHAB who have junior groups in some places. HAPAs information service will put people in touch with nearby activities. Tutors who are themselves disabled know the need for all children to play and to interact with others, and often make the best leaders. There is a recent report on Integrated Play published by SE Regional Play Association.

ACCESSIBILITY

How do we approach the challenge of ensuring that our schemes and activities are accessible to children with disabilities?

It may help to have a statement of equal opportunities in play, agreed by the scheme/activity management. Fair Play has published a model for this, see our guides section, which is adaptable to local circumstances. It should be reviewed regularly.

A practical event is often the best way to test ideas. The fun can start with a craft day for all children, such as has been run in ottingham. Or with social workers who felt that profoundly deaf and partially hearing children needed more chances for play and outings - LB Lewisham ran this for several years with the long-term aim of integration into mainstream play provision. They had a playworker team of social workers, student teachers, and sensible teenagers, and included able-bodied brothers and sisters - they often had considerable care duties for their disabled sibling at home and deserved fun too, as they often missed out.

Mentally handicapped children may need to begin in a special group which can then join in with others to explore music, drama or dance, as at groups based at Cambridge House or in LB Southwark. Everyone discovers that not everyones body or mind works just the same, but that each person has a name and a personality worth knowing. Remember that there are children with less visible handicaps such as asthma (on the increase), cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, heart defects or sickle cell disease. Not only do they need play at home and in their communities, but in hospital, childrens homes and other such settings.

If the children are to discover what is available to them, they will need to have the co-operation of their parents/carers. These adults may fear the capability of other adults in coping with their childrens needs or other children bullying or laughing at their child. Other parents and the play workers have an important role in helping set their minds to rest. Welcoming notices painted by children, invitations to the playground or scheme, especially from one child to another, are effective. There are skills mainstream children will enjoy learning such as finger spelling and signs, especially when they are at the secret language stage. Playing games blindfolded or trying to do a craft wearing three pairs of gloves or wearing headphones with enough noise to block out most external sound can help in grasping the problems children with special needs have.

Scheme organisers should be on especial alert for parents who want the scheme to admit their children. One south coast scheme running a Saturday Club on a deprived estate had parents whose children had a special need approaching them for places. No one else would accept them, the summer special schemes were unsuitable, and other groups such as Scouts, playschemes etc seemed unwilling to cope. This particular Club quickly reviewed its hired premises, equipment, staff and volunteer training, and decided there were challenges but no sound reason why they could not cope. Within a few weeks, of the regular 30 children six had a special need - profoundly deaf, cerebral palsy, mental handicap, partial sightedness, spina bifida. The organisers found that this policy paid positive dividends in terms of the quality of activity, voluntary input, child behaviour and involvement, with very few and minor adverse aspects. Attitudes were the key, not facilities.

Children travelling daily long journeys to school can miss out on play time. It might be an idea to make some games to play along the way - if they are contained in bags they can be hung on hooks ready for use. Books of spotting games are useful. Games are also useful in out-patients departments and on childrens wards - long-stay hospitals and residential schools staff often are unaware of what is locally available for visits. They may have places that would be grand for other children to picnic or swim. Such contacts can lead to exchanges of letters, cards and scrap books.

Social services staff need to know what is going on their patch so children home from hospital or school can join in holiday schemes or regular clubs. The holiday play scheme can ensure that it is able to cope with a number of children with special needs, and mainstream children can help by telling the organisers of any families whose children might like an invitation which the mainstream children can deliver personally - then friendships will be forged, as they are in such schemes, between children, and some of them will have disabilities. It is always the case that children discover as more important the strengths and talents of their friends rather than counting as important their disabilities.

Mobile play projects which visit communities without adequate play facilities can make welcome all children - adopting the we will cope if we possibly and humanly can approach - so that children with special needs, whose education may isolate them from their peers for much of the day, can play alongside their peers and neighbours. One mobile project is building up a list of such children living near its regular sites, with brief details of the childs condition and of the requirements for that child to participate in visits. If the parent is willing, then a phone number may enable that child to be present because mum or dad knows the bus is coming along next day.

Which is correct? Separate schemes activities for children with disabilities, or integrated?

Neither view is wholly correct. There are reasons why in some situations, parents, professionals and others concerned for the welfare of children with special needs will choose a special disabled-only solution. There may be genuine concerns for children suffering unkind attitudes (rare in practice, at least from other children). There are some disabling conditions which require for the childs protection and welfare, exclusive facilities. There are, of course, situations where the condition may be accompanied by extremely violent behaviour disorder, and thus other childrens interest need to be considered. However, it is quite common for adventure playgrounds for disabled children to admit able-bodied children, either siblings or peer group from the neighbourhood.

There are often cogent reasons, some discussed above, why integrated facilities are desirable as other, perfectly valid solutions. As stated before, not all the benefits are confined only to the child with a disability. Whilst facilities, adequate planning, sufficient human, physical and financial resources are important factors in establishing successful response to the need of disabled children to play (and all children of course), the main issue is one of attitude by the organisers and playworkers.

As a footnote, it is worth noting the current growth of interest in making play areas accessible for children with disabilities. A study in Stockport has pointed up the ways in which children, able-bodied and disabled, parents and others can be consulted, and the result can be not only accessible and fun for the child who is disabled, it often will be a superior experience for every child.

CONTACTS [These are just a few of the many organisations covering special needs]

PLANET c/o Harperbury Hospital, Harper Lane, Radlett, Herts WD7 9HQ

N.P.F.A., 25 Ovington Square, London SW3 1LQ. 0171-584 6445 / 0171-581 2402 (fax)

Child Accident Prevention Trust, 4th Floor, Clerks Court, 18-20 Farringdon Lane, London EC1R 3AU. 071-608 2838/ Fax 0171-608 3674

National Voluntary Council for Childrens Play, as NPIC (below), Tel: 0171-388 0330.

National Play Information Centre (NPIC) 359-361 Euston Road, London NW1 3AL. 071-383 5455 Fax 071-387 3152

Preschool Learning Association (PSLA), 61-63 Kings Cross Road, London WC1X 9LL. 0171-833 0991

National Centre for Play, Moray House College of Education, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ. 0131-556 8455

National Association for Children in Hospital, Argyle House, 29/37 Euston Road, London NW1 2SD. 0171-629 8361

Play Matters/Active (National Toy Libraries Association), 68 Churchway, London NW1 1LT. 0171-387 9592

Disability Now, 12 Park Crescent, London W1N 4EQ. 0171-636 5020

National Library for the Handicapped Child, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1E 0AL.

Contact-A-Family, 16 Strutton Ground, London SW1P

Royal National Institute for the Deaf, 105 Gower Street, London WC1E

National Deaf Childrens Society, 45 Harefield Road, London W2

National Deaf Blind and Rubella Association, 311 Grays Inn Road, London WC1

National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults (MENCAP), 123 Golden Lane, London EC1Y

Royal National Institute for the Blind, 224 Great Portland Street, London W1N

Association for all Speech Impaired Children (AFASIC), 347 Central Markets, London EC1A

Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Society, 22 Upper Woburn Place, London WC1

British Diabetic Association, 10 Queen Annes Street, London W1M 6BD

Sickle Cell Society, Willesden General Hospital, Harlesdan Road, London NW10

Muscular Dystrophy, 13C Tachbrook Street, London SW1V 2NC

SCOPE (formerly The Spastics Society), 12 Park Crescent, London W1N 4EO

Physically and Able Bodied (PHAB), Tavistock Square North, London WC1H 9HX

Handicapped Adventure Playground Association (HAPA), Fulham Palace, Bishops Avenue, London SW6 6EA

Kith and Kin, c/o Maurice Collins, 6 Grosvenor Road, Muswell Hill, London N10

Boy Scout Association, Baden-Powell House, Queens Gate, London SW7 5JS

Girl Guide Association, 17 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1

Camgate Leisure Centre (Training), 34 Camberwell Road, London SE5 0EN

There are many more Societies at national, regional and local level. Your local library, Council for Voluntary Service/Community Service, Rural Community Council and Citizens Advice Bureau should be able to put you in touch with local societies and also local branches of national bodies. Social Services will have a list of special playgroups, play projects etc in your area, and details of all kinds of aids, services, facilities and resources. Some local bodies publish directories of resources and services for people with disabilities. Details of all state benefits can be obtained from CAB or your local Department of Social Security. Post offices carry leaflets on these also. Suitable trainers, if you are running courses, can be found quite often by contacting the above bodies. Fair Play for Children will advise in this regard, and believes that handicapped people themselves often make the best trainers because they know of the real value of play opportunities.