As promised, here is the letter I sent to my MP, Tessa Jowell. (For you Americans: an MP is like a senator except they serve a much smaller constituency.) I shortened the letter as many of the details are already here on the Nursery thread on this blog. Having said that, it is still very long, so if you make it through the whole thing, congratulations.
Dear Mrs Jowell,
My daughter, May, who just turned one-year old, is a special needs case. She was born with severe brain damage. She is developmentally delayed, but a happy baby making incredible progress.
Up until our search for a nursery, our experience of dealing with this very challenging situation has been made easier by Lambeth. Her team at the Mary Sheridan Centre are outstanding and Lambeth has quickly approved and acquired any equipment we need.
In regards to a nursery place, our case is much like any family in Lambeth who has a child with complex needs. Lambeth requires us to stay within the borough to receive specialist equipment and access to essential therapists. In addition to that, to ensure funding, they asked us to choose a nursery with an Ofsted good or outstanding rating.
[Because of this] out of hundreds, we were left with one nursery, the second most expensive in the area.
I cannot see how this is anything but discrimination.
But, our story gets worse, because though we put ourselves on waiting lists, even then very few were welcoming to our daughter. Specifically, I wish to highlight *** attached to the “Outstanding” primary school on your road.
We approached *** on the recommendation of Lambeth council who told us that children with special needs should be prioritised on waiting lists. In fact, ***’s own literature refers to this: “We operate a waiting list, from which places are allocated on a first come first serve basis. However, families with additional needs may be given priority.” They even go so far as to claim that their aim is: “to provide places for… families with additional needs.”
Despite a new building complete with handicap accessibility, in November 2009, *** told me they were uncertain they could accommodate May, who is only a baby. Before she would prioritise, or even admit May, the manager required a Statement of Special Needs to be prepared by Lambeth.
No other nursery made statementing a requirement for being accepted, let alone being prioritised. Regardless, requiring a statement is a ‘catch-22’. Lambeth do not statement children under-3. Several months later, the manager agreed that one of May’s team at the Mary Sheridan Centre could write a report vouching for her needs.
Two months later, and with no further word from ***, I phoned and was informed that May would not be priortised. I was told it would be “unfair on the other parents.” I’m not sure it is possible to get across in a letter how demoralising it is to learn, so early in May’s life, that an educational institution would tell us that prioritising us would be unfair to other parents. I never thought I’d be in a situation where someone would imply that May’s disability could ever put us at an advantage.
We deserve the same choice as other families. Lambeth do not subsidise the fees, only her equipment and support, and our one “choice” is unaffordable for us. And, that [*** turned us down because] both my husband and I work, seems to be the same reason 99% of parents place their child in nursery to begin with.
The manager now required yet another hurdle for prioritising, a referral letter from a medical professional. Though she discouraged us yet again; she wrote that even if we did manage this, May’s application may still be denied or trumped by a child with more severe needs than her. However, in earlier conversations she told me that there are no children with more severe needs on the list than May. I asked to see their policy regarding prioritising, but the manager told me there is none, save the nebulous statement that I quoted above.
I would appreciate your consideration of the following:
1. That funding and therapists may be allocated to a suitable nursery, located a reasonable distance from a family home, even if it is not within Lambeth;
2. That state nurseries in Lambeth, like *** attached to a primary school, are required to be transparent about their policies regarding priority and admissions of special needs children.
I do understand how popular *** is and I have no objection to there being no availability for my daughter by the time we needed one. However, I do object to a nursery, under the jurisdiction of the borough and one that advertises as its aim that they wish to provide places for families with special needs, being allowed to continue to discriminate against families like ours.
My family’s situation is a very difficult one. I certainly do not want to force anyone to work with my daughter. Her progress is too important to insist *** or any other nursery works with her if they don’t wish to.
But, something needs to be done, either to change the system in Lambeth so that families like mine are allowed to search beyond such restrictive criteria or to require nurseries to abide by the discrimination acts they work under. Unless nurseries are required to be transparent about how they choose their pupils, children like my daughter – a very sweet child with disabilities – will lose out.
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