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Government policy and the rights of families
A father and his two children smiling


Policies provide the basis and the working boundaries for professional practice. The recognition of the value of parents, and then the family perspective, has evolved from the 1980 Education Act, and took a first step in requiring parent representation on school governing bodies to the Green Paper, Support and Aspiration (Department for Education, 2011) which proposes empowerment of parents and families of children with disabilities through information, choice and financial control.


In responding to the consultation, the priority that the Government had given to improving services for disabled children and their families (The Family Fund) and its 'vision of a system which identifies disabled children's support needs at an early stage' (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) was broadly welcomed.

Boy in wheelchair smiling

Since 1980, Government policy has increasingly acknowledged the value and impact of families in the education of their sons and daughters with disabilities.

Parents hold key information...They have unique strengths, knowledge and experience to contribute to the shared view of their child's needs and the best ways of supporting them.

Revised SEN Code of Practice, 2001

Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability (Green Paper) (2011)
Girl standing smiling at camera


In the Green Paper, the Government proposes to extend parents' influence over, build their confidence in and minimise the adversarial nature of the system that supports children and young people with SEN and disabilities by:

  • Making funding more transparent to parents.
  • Requiring Health, Education and Social Care agencies to work more collaboratively.
  • Giving clearer information to parents about the services and expertise on offer and available.
  • Giving parents more support in navigating the assessment system.
  • Continuing to invest in a form of 'short breaks'.
  • Giving parents more control through personal budgets for every family with a single plan, possibly including short break funding.
  • Giving parents more choice by allowing them to state a preference for any state-funded school.
  • Creating the opportunity for parents' groups to establish new schools.

The 2001 SEN Code of Practice is being revised.

The UK is unique amongst its European counterparts in having disability discrimination legislation and a Disability Rights Commission. If we are to achieve the Disability Rights Commission's goal of: "a society where all disabled people can participate fully as equal citizens" then there is an ongoing challenge in ensuring that disabled children are central to all Government policies (perhaps through a 'disability impact' statement on all new initiatives)...


But the Government has an ongoing challenge for change:

... Social attitudes and limited and variable service provision continue to exclude disabled children from many opportunities and to constrain the lives of their families' (DoH, 2002).

DoH, 2002 and Russell, 2003

opened book

Broach, S. (2010) Cemented to the floor by law, online at:


Council for Disabled Children/Contact a Family (2005) Parent Participation: Improving services for disabled children (Parents' guide), London: Council for Disabled Children/Contact a Family, online at:


Contact a Family (2006) About families with disabled children – UK, London: Contact a Family, online at:


Department for Education (2011) Support and Aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability – a consultation, London: Department for Education, online at:


Russell, P. (2003) Access and achievement or social

exclusion?: are the Government's policies working for disabled children and their families?, Children & Society, 17, 215-225.


Together for Disabled Children (2010) Information for families of disabled children: checklist, online at: