MORE services for children with disabilities are desperately needed in Caerphilly County Borough Council, according to concerned parents.
There are 3,220 disabled children (up to 19-years-old) in Caerphilly County Borough, according to the 2021 Census data. Of which, 1,405 are “limited a lot” and 1,815 are “limited a little”.
Jeni Spinks, whose six-year-old son Clarkson is autistic and has complex needs, said: “There’s indirect discrimination to our children – which is worse than being told directly that we can’t do something.
“I want disabled children to be treated more equally and for them to have equal access to sports and leisure services.”
Mrs Spinks lives in Blackwood and runs the campaign ‘Exposing disability inequality for Children and Families’. She said her son is missing out on independent play during school holidays and is excluded from opportunities other children get.
Mrs Spinks said: “The summer holidays disrupt his whole routine as he has nowhere to go. Six weeks is a long time.
“Myself and other families felt so isolated last summer and many before. We do have outside charities and organisations like Sparkle trying their best to help.”
Sparkle is a charity that supports children and young people with disabilities and their families in Gwent. Sparkle runs Caerphilly Children’s Centre in Energlyn.
Rebecca McDonald, Sparkle team lead, said: “We have had families say we are a lifeline for them.
“We’re trying to make everything as easy as we can for the parents because life is already challenging.”
She added: “We’re continuously evaluating our practices and how we can be better. We want to show families that we are listening.
“Our support is catered to the child and tailored around them – some need a sensory room, or some need a quiet room for example.
We’re also looking at more tech stuff at the moment because that’s what the children have asked for.”
Sparkle offers a Friday and Saturday Play Club for five to 11-year-olds. Ms McDonald said there are 11 children using this service currently, with 27 children on its Caerphilly waiting list.
Sparkle is a charity that relies on fundraisers and donations to deliver its services.
Over February half-term, the council organised a disability sport scheme, but, Mrs Spinks criticised the scheme as it excluded those who need support with eating or using the toilet.
Mrs Spinks is lobbying the council to adopt a similar strategy to Torfaen County Borough Council’s play model – which offers opportunities to disabled children and young people aged five to 18-years-old.
She said: “[Torfaen Council] train volunteers up to take care of the specific children – if they are autistic or have anxiety management, they teach them how to change a pull-up. The volunteer then stays with that child all summer. They always look at what is best for the specific child.”
Mrs Spinks said there has been a lack of engagement between the council and parents of disabled children. She added: “We have a big community and the council could tap into it, we have a wealth of knowledge between us all, with all our different experiences.”
Another parent of a disabled child, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the council should be “ashamed”.
The parent said: “I live in the Upper Rhymney Valley and there aren’t even appointments here. Everything is based down in Caerphilly.
There are no sensory rooms or play areas, the parks do not have any equipment suitable for wheelchair users or disabled children.
“If it wasn’t for [community group] Sparrows there would be no activities for our disabled children. Lots of people up the valley have to travel and do not have the a car. Public transport is expensive and not straightforward, they just do not go to events or even appointments.”
The parent added: “I know that speaking to other parents that we all feel like this, so it is not just a top of the valley issue. There are so many children in the Caerphilly borough with disabilities, but they are just forgotten about.
“They deserve the right to go swimming, play football or netball, or even play in the park – but the council do not support this. They do not fund things for them, so again they are left behind.”
Caerphilly’s Member of Senedd Hefin David said: “I have met with Jen previously and I’ve also met with Sparkle, who provide such an important lifeline for those with additional learning needs and their families.
“I have organised a further meeting with Sparkle, at the children’s centre in April, which will be attended by myself, council officers and the cabinet member for education.
“I have a personal interest in this issue as many will know and I will continue support them as much as I can.”
A council spokesperson said: “From a sport and physical activity perspective, CCBC employ a disability and inclusion officer role to support and provide opportunities for children to participate in sport, as well as the valued advice and guidance he provides to community groups across CCBC.”
They added: “Our Sport Caerphilly team have arranged successful half-termly disability sport camps for disabled children for many years.
“They also organise the annual Disability Six Nations Rugby Festival tournament which has been running for 15 years. In 2022, over 300 children with disabilities from schools across the county borough came together at the Centre for Sporting Excellence in Ystrad Mynach.”