Disability charity Sense announced on Tuesday a new initiative funded by the National Lottery to support children with complex disabilities and their families.
The new scheme – Connect and Play – is an early intervention service that will help families understand their childrens’ needs and reduce the isolation often associated with caring for a child with complex disabilities.
An intervention approach is key to ensuring these children get the best start in life, and the programme will be rolled out across Sense centres nationwide after a successful pilot in Birmingham.
Richard Kramer, Chief Executive of Sense, said: “We’ve seen from our Birmingham pilot how impactful this service is for improving the lives of disabled children and their families.
“It’s vital that every parent of a child with complex disabilities knows how to play and connect with their child.”
Richard explained that play has a central role in early physical, cognitive and emotional development, helping children to learn, socialise and communicate.
It is also central to parent-child bonding, and helps adults to communicate and develop their parental skills.
He added: “Thanks to National Lottery players, this grant for Connect and Play means we can expand early intervention support for children and families across England and allow Sense to reach more families with this essential service.”
The National Lottery Community Fund will provide £1,294,587 of funding to Sense over three years for this service, covering the period May 2023 to May 2026, and the service will be available to London families in its Barnet centre.
Sense works with children of various disabilities, including deafblindness, and already runs sensory exploration sessions and targeted workshops.
The funding announcement coincides with national Deaf and Blind Awareness week, during 26 June to 2 July.
For deafblind children, these sessions can help them feel connected to the world around them despite the debilitating restrictions on their sight and hearing.
In 2022, it was estimated that there are over 23,000 children (0-19 years old) in the UK who are deafblind.
Through tactile toys, wind machines, and other exciting resources, these children can experience the joy of engaging their other senses, and this approach is central to the Connect and Play service.
Chloe Taylor-Roberts, 6, has autism and global developmental delay and took part in the Connect and Play pilot in Birmingham.
Chloe’s Mum, Laura Roberts, said that attending the sessions has boosted Chloe’s confidence and improved her communication with her family.
She said: “Before finding Sense, Chloe had struggled in mainstream nurseries. Chloe didn’t speak at all, and she wouldn’t acknowledge her youngest brother George’s existence.
“Since going to the Sense sessions, we’ve seen a massive change. She loves the space and all the staff are very encouraging.
“Chloe now says words, uses lots of signs to communicate and sings songs with words. The whole family understands her better, and she plays with her brother George.”
“Chloe never used to laugh but she does now. That’s a huge thing for our family. I think her speech will continue to develop and I can see all the positives about her future.”
Research carried out by Sense showed that nine in ten parents of children with complex disabilities feel their child doesn’t get the same opportunities to play and develop as non-disabled children.
A similar number – 95% – said that they need help with understanding their child’s needs, and learning to engage with them.
More than half – 55% – reported their child was excluded from mainstream play groups, proving the crucial need for this service.
To find out more about Connect and Play, click here.
Featured image credit: Sense