Corridors of Power

The chase was on – I sprinted after her, she was gone before I could reach her. I froze, scanning frantically – through the mêlée of suits, tourists and police officers. She’d gone, vanished. Panic rising, I caught my breath and headed for the nearest doorway – there were five to choose from. Tentatively edging through a door marked, ‘Members’ Family Room’ I found her innocently asking, “Can I play with the dolls’ house?”

Rosy, seven, has Autism and Learning Disabilities and in busy, public spaces she becomes very over-excited and experiences a sensory overload, which means she finds it really hard to regulate her behaviour. She is overcome by impulses; to run, jump about, flap her arms and shriek.

Possibly not the ideal behaviour for the corridors of power, the higher levels of government where the most important decisions are made, but there we were, causing a ruckus. The Houses of Parliament are an intimidating place, both in terms of bricks and mortar and as the foundations of democracy, rights and freedom.

Rosy and I were there last week to speak up for those rights. The rights of children with disabilities to receive appropriate, affordable childcare that meet their needs and are close to home. We were one of six families asked to give evidence to a cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry looking in to childcare for disabled children.

This is a provision most families take for granted, but for close to three-quarters of disabled children in this country it is simply not there. When asked in a recent survey, only 28 per cent of Local Authorities have provision for this group of children, meaning there are well over half-a-million children missing out on childcare, whether it is their right to 15-hours of pre-school education, wrap-around care such as after-school clubs, holiday play schemes or inclusive activities for young people with disabilities.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought Rosy along to such an important occasion – but you know what? I didn’t have any childcare! The irony was not lost on any of us that day. Bringing her was not the easy option – a train journey from Cambridge, two tubes, a late night for Rosy and a big upset to her routine. But I can’t commend Parliament enough! The staff at the entrance queue fast tracked us through, the police officers chuckled at our mad dash around Central Lobby and the MPs leading the Inquiry Robert Buckland and Pat Glass made us so welcome.

They and the others on the Inquiry panel – including Baroness Eaton and MPs Teresa Pearce, David Ward and Sarah Champion were understanding and really interested in our views. We felt truly listened to and they were shocked – the evidence from parents like us on the front line is a far cry from what they had been told the day before by the Local Authorities that gave evidence.

Moreover I met, in person, the women who have been on this desperately seeking childcare journey with me – the mothers of four other children with disabilities. Children of different ages, different needs and in different parts of the country, but all struggling with the same challenges to find appropriate, affordable childcare. The solidarity amongst the women there with me, was palpable. We are determined to change things for families like ours and this occasion was a significant step.