Coronavirus: Information for families with disabled children


With so much out there about Covid-19 (coronavirus) and confusion about the virus and its impact on families with disabled children, we wanted to make sure we offered you somewhere to go where all the most important information you need is in the one place.

We will keep adding to this pages as and when the situation changes, so please keep checking back for additional information and resources that could be useful to you and your family.

And of course we'll be posting all the latest news on our Facebook and Twitter pages too.

You can also keep up-to-date with everything by signing up to What's new, our regular free e-newsletter.

General and up-to-date coronavirus advice

Children with health needs

Coronavirus and your child's education

Coronavirus, welfare benefits and money

The Coronavirus Act 2020

Coping at home

General and up-to-date coronavirus advice

The latest government advice can be found at the gov.uk website.

The advice as of Monday 23 March is that people with symptoms should self isolate; everyone should reduce spread by staying at home and social distancing; and vulnerable people should be shielding for 12 weeks.

What are the instructions to stay at home and practice social distancing?

In order to reduce the spread of the virus the government has urged us all to only leave the house for one of four reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household.
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where you cannot work from home.

Social distancing is the steps you can take to help reduce social interaction between yourselves and others and, as a result, help reduce the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).

Even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household.

The government is also stopping social gatherings of more than two people and has ordered certain non-essential businesses to close.

On the government's website, it outlines guidance on social distancing and staying at home for people in the UK.

What if I have or think I have the infection?

The government is asking people who have the infection to self-isolate at home and not to go out and about where they can pass it on.

This advice is likely to be in place for some weeks.

See the government's guidance on what to do if you or someone in your household possibly has the Covid-19 virus.

What conditions should self isolate (also called shielding)?

The government announced on Sunday 22 March that it is sending letters to 1.5 million people in England affected by one of more than a dozen serious conditions which it is believed put them most at risk from coronavirus.

Around 40% of the group receiving the letters advising them to "take themselves out of society" for at least 12 weeks are aged 75 or older.

The groups defined as "extremely vulnerable" who will receive the letter are:

  • Solid organ transplant recipients.
  • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer.
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment.
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer.
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or Parp inhibitors.
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs.
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID and homozygous sickle cell).
  • People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

If you think you fall into one of the categories of extremely vulnerable people listed below and you have not received a letter by Sunday 29 March 2020 or been contacted by your GP, you should discuss your concerns with your GP or hospital clinician.

If you receive a letter you are encouraged to register by going to www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable or call 0800 028 8327, the Government's dedicated helpline. 

This will help understand whether or not people are in touch with friends, family or a support network in their community who can support them to get food and medicine, and, if not what help they would need. For example, you'll be able to ask for help getting deliveries of essential supplies like food.

Families concerned about a child with a specific condition may also find it useful to get in contact with the relevant support group or umbrella organisation. Although they can't provide individual medical advice, they can provide general guidance about particular conditions.

Read the government guidance on self isolating (shielding).

Children with health needs

General health tips

It's important to keep following general advice around handwashing and cleaning. This is vital in stopping the spread of infection.

Remember to wash anything you touch regularly, such as phones and glasses. Decontaminate after returning from any trip outside the phone by washing and changing clothing.

Children with complex health needs

The government announced on Sunday 22 March that it would be sending letters to 1.5 million people in England suffering from one of more than a dozen serious conditions which it is believed put them most at risk from coronavirus.

If you're concerned about a child with a specific condition, you may find it useful to get in contact with the relevant support group or umbrella organisation. Although they can't provide individual medical advice, they can provide general guidance about particular conditions.

If your child is vulnerable and needs to isolate for a period of time, plan and prepare as best you can. Make sure you can a medicine supplies and people to help in an emergency.

Wellchild has advice on caring for a child with complex needs.

Together for Short Lives has advice on what to do when you need to let a carer into the home.

Although you may be self-isolating, or feeling isolated as you care for your child, you are not alone. Most charities and organisations are widening access to social media to ensure that families can share information, support and advice remotely. Many health services are using remote access to provide support and advice.

We've also provided some advice at the bottom of this page about coping at home.

Going into hospital

If your child has to go into hospital during this time, check with the hospital about their current visitor policy.

See our advice on hospital admission, including making use of a hospital passport.

Coronavirus and your child's education

Department for Education (DfE) Coronavirus Helpline

The DfE have set up a helpline offering guidance for anyone with education related questions.

The number is 0800 046 8687, and lines are open 8am-6pm (Monday - Friday), and 10am - 4pm (Saturday and Sunday).

School closures

From Friday 20 March, UK schools have closed indefinitely to minimise transmission of Covid-19.

Most children must now stay at home, but the government has allowed for some exceptional cases. These are:

  • Children of key workers, i.e. those working on the front line of the coronavirus situation such as doctors and nurses.
  • Vulnerable children.

These children can expect their education provision to continue in an education setting.

For more information for parents and carers about the closure of schools and other educational settings following the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) please read this government publication.

What are key workers?

Key workers are those whose jobs are critical to the Covid-19 response, such as those who work in health and social care, along with some other sectors.

Find out more about key workers at gov.uk.

If you are a key worker and your child cannot safely be kept at home, your child will be prioritised for education provision.

Who are vulnerable children?

Vulnerable children include children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, 'looked after' children, young carers, disabled children and those with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.

Education settings will also have the flexibility to extend education provision to children on the edges of receiving children's social care support - even if they don't meant the definition of vulnerable.

Will my child have to go to school if they are vulnerable?

Children receiving social care can expect to receive education provision at school unless it is unsafe for them to be there. If a parent feels they can safely keep their child at home, the advice is that the school, social worker and parent will discuss this together.

Children with an EHC plan in England are expected to fall into two categories. Children receiving limited or no personal care from their education setting can be safely kept at home if what care they do need can be provided there instead. In these cases, local authorities and education settings will use their reasonable endeavours to continue meeting the needs outlined in the EHC plan.

Other children might be at significant risk if their education, health and care needs can't be met. This may include those with profound and multiple learning difficulties, and those receiving significant levels of personal care support at their education setting. Local authorities will ensure that there are education settings open for these children.

Schools, colleges, other training providers and local authorities will consider the needs of all children and young people with an EHC plan, alongside the views of their parents, and make a risk assessment for each child or young person.

It is important to be aware that any changes to the support outlined in the EHC plan during this period will be taken as temporary changes only.

Will my child go to their same school?

Local authorities will work with schools to keep them open, but this might not always be possible, for example if it's unsafe for staff or pupils to do so. If your child is needs to go to school but their own school is closed, they will be given a place in another school.

Will my child's school transport continue?

Yes, local authorities must continue to ensure children are supported to get to school safely. This applies even if your child has been moved to another school.

Children in alternative provision

The government is keeping alternative provision settings open due to the small but mostly vulnerable number of children who attend.

The guidance says that these children are at particular risk of not being at school, while alternative provision settings are especially well-placed to care for vulnerable children.

If an alternative provision setting does have to close, the local authority must carry our safeguarding assessments for each child on a case-by-case basis and make appropriate arrangements.

When can I find out more?

See the government's guidance on vulnerable children and young people.

See also guidance on isolation for residential education settings.

Vicky Ford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, has written an open letter to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, their parents, families and others who support them.

The letter signposts key Covid-19 guidance published over the past week.

You can read the letter in full on the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) website.

Cancellation of GCSEs and A Levels this year

Exams have been cancelled for 2020 to give pupils, parents, and teachers certainty, and enable schools and colleges to focus on supporting vulnerable children and the children of key workers. You can find out more in this government publication about exams in 2020.

Coronavirus, welfare benefits and money

As well as worries about the health loved ones, you may also have concerns about the financial implications for your family, particularly if you or a partner are likely to have to stop working or see a significant drop in earnings.

Answers to some of your most common questions

There have already been a number of changes to the benefits system in response to the current outbreak. 

Please see our page answering some of the common questions about benefits that parents with a disabled child might have.

We'll keep this page updated if and when any government changes are announced.

Cornonavirus Job Retention Scheme

The government has announced the 'Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme', a new type of financial support to help employers carry on paying their workers.

An entirely new type of financial support, detailed information about the scheme isn't available yet. For instance, how this will apply to those on zero hours contracts is not yet clear.

The government says that it intends the scheme to run for at least 3 months from 1st March 2020 but will extend it if necessary. It will be a few weeks until the scheme is up and running properly but grants can be backdated to the beginning of March 2020.

Find out more about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Support for unemployed workers

The government has announced a new self-employment income support scheme, providing a HMRC grant of 80% of your average monthly profit as calculated over a three year period and with a cap of £2,500 a month.

This will be paid as a one-off lump sum payment in June 2020 and will cover the period March, April and May.

Find out more about the self-employment income support scheme.

Other changes to the benefits system announced by the government

A series of new changes to the benefits system have also been announced by the government including:

  • Increasing the Universal Credit standard allowance and the basic element of Working Tax Credit by £20 per week. This increase will apply for a temporary period of 12 months.
  • Scrapping the minimum income floor for all Universal Credit claimants. This means that self-employed people will no longer be treated as having an assumed amount of earnings when their Universal Credit is calculated.
  • Increasing the local housing allowance rate used in capping the amount of help with rent private tenants get under Housing Benefit and Universal Credit. This will be increased to ensure that it covers at least 30% of rents in any particular area.  

Visit our benefits & financial help pages for more information about support you might be eligible for.

The Coronavirus Act 2020

The Coronavirus Act 2020 is a temporary law to help the government deal with the current public health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic. It came into force on Wednesday 25 March 2020.

Overall, for disabled children, the Act is less destructive to the legal framework and protections than we might have feared; and certainly compared with its impact on the Care Act, where a whole swathe of duties on local authorities around assessment of disabled adults are removed and the duty to meet needs has been set very high.

However, local authorities are still expected to do as much as they can to comply with their duties, and the changes do not remove the duty of care they have towards disabled adults at risk of serious harm or neglect.

We've put together an assessment of the law in relation to disabled children and their families. We are in regular contact with government officials so please do email una.summerson@contact.org.uk if you have any concerns about this law and we will endeavour to raise them with the relevant government department.

Education

The Act provides for certain statutory provisions to be temporarily disapplied. Specifically on SEND legislation (the Children and Families Act 2014) in England. It enables to Secretary of State to make orders:

  • Disapplying the duty on institutions named in an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan to admit (so a child with an EHC plan may have to move school).
  • Disapplying the duties on reviews and re-assessments.
  • Modifying the duties on local authorities and the health service to secure (respectively) the special education and health provision specified in an EHC plan (changing it to a requirement to use reasonable endeavours to deliver the provision).

But other duties - including to undertake EHC needs assessments and make plans remain in place: the Act includes no provision to alter those.

On other education legislation, it provides for the temporary closure of schools (or particular schools); and also for them to be required to stay open over holidays or to take particular groups of children.

It also provides for the suspension of statutory provisions regarding school attendance - this would mean no fines or prosecutions - and for the Secretary of State to be able to modify various statutory provisions.

The most important points for families with disabled children in addition to the above are:

  • Duty to provide free travel arrangements - also becomes reasonable endeavours.
  • Duty to provide alternative education for sick or excluded children - also reasonable endeavours.

Social care

The Act means that local authorities do not have to comply with the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and 1989 Children Act provisions relating to transition to adult services (and the mirroring sections in the Care Act are also disapplied), but other provisions, including young carer and parent carer assessments, remain.

Safeguarding

The Act also allows for changes to the Mental Health Act, which could weaken the safeguarding of children and young people who display challenging behaviour or who are autistic and are a cause for concern.

In conclusion

It is important that parents and local authorities are aware that the majority of the law on SEND remains untouched - including the duties to assess education, health and care needs and, where necessary, to make EHC Plans. However, given the current crisis local authorities may need more time to carry out EHC processes. 

Coping at home

We know it's a worrying time for parents right now, and we hope you are all keeping safe and well. We're put together some tips and ideas for coping at home.

If you need help getting food and supplies

The government advises to ask family, friends and neighbours to support you and use online services. If this is not possible, then the public sector, business, charities, and the general public are gearing up to help those advised to stay at home.

You can visit https://covidmutualaid.org/ to see if there are any voluntary support groups in your area.

Dealing with anxiety

If you are feeling really anxious, take a moment to check in with yourself: stop, take a deep breath in and exhale fully - making a sighing sound as you breath out. Do this three times.

Another way to calm yourself is to bring your hand to your heart and rest it there while you breathe - this calms the nervous system.

For help with coping and feeling anxious visit the NHS website's tips on dealing with anxiety. The Guardian newspaper has also written a piece specifically about managing anxiety around coronavirus. And the NHS has top tips on maintaining wellbeing - vital for parent carers.

MIND have created a webpage to support your wellbeing during the outbreak. Read here.

Young Minds have developed webpages that focus on looking after your mental health while self-isolating. Read more here.

Look after yourself    

We know it's not easy looking after a disabled child and finding time for yourself at the best of times, but if you can try and set some routines and boundaries around being at home you will reap the rewards.

Now might be the time to try an online exercise or yoga course! There are loads of videos online - take your pick. Here are some more top tips to help regain a sense of - well, control might be the wrong word - but you know what we mean!

  • Set an alarm, get up at your normal time, have a shower, get dressed. Keep to your morning routine as much as possible.
  • Get as much natural light and fresh air as possible.
  • Take breaks and eat your lunch. Keep well fed and hydrated.  Again, if you usually go to the gym or go out for a walk at lunch, make sure you take the time to exercise, inside or outside. Have a stretch, go for a walk, keep moving.
  • Stay in (virtual) contact with your friends, family and colleagues. Embrace the video call, maybe phone people if you'd usually text, video call if you'd usually phone. We're all just a virtual contact away!
  • If you're working from home, set your boundaries as part of your routine. Work creeps into our home life easily at the best of times. Working from home makes it vital that you have a beginning and end of the work day. If you live with other people, tell them that you are going to work (and when you've finished!)
  • Try to limit your news intake, both TV and digital. Maybe check the news twice a day. Vary your watching, get the rom-coms on, stick on something that will provide some light relief. Or read a book! Do what you can to maintain perspective, keep yourself informed, but allow yourself some escapism.

For children

Get organized! You may have more than one home school timetable: make sure everyone knows what they're doing when.

If you have a child with a learning disability, Easy read online has produced a reassuring, easy read leaflet about the coronavirus

Young Minds have resources to help you talk to your child about Coronavirus and tips from their Parents Helpline to support family wellbeing. You can read it here.

The NSPCC has created a new webpage with information and advice for parents or carers who are worried a child or young person may be struggling with their mental health or has anxiety about coronavirus. The webpage includes information on talking about feelings and worries; keeping in touch and balancing screen time; ways to create structure and routine; and helping to give children a sense of control. Read more here.

 
Check out this great handwashing rap for children with learning disabilities.

Young Minds has produced some guidance and top tips on talking to children about the coronavirus. You can also read the British Psychological Society guidance.

And this Makaton video about handwashing from Mencap.

There is also a cartoon workbook about Coronavirus for children under seven in lots of languages from MindHeart.

Other resources

BBC Newsround has helpful information for children about the coronavirus, including explainer videos. They also have a 'happy news' section to brighten the day

Childline has a 'calm zone', with videos, activities, games, and calming activities to help children who are worried about anything

Many major museums and organisations in the UK and abroad are running virtual tours, for example the British Museum.

Calibre Audio Library
UK charity that lends audio books and streams books online for anyone who struggles to access print, including children.

Living Paintings (UK)
Free postal library supporting blind and partially sighted adults, children and young people. They make tactile versions of pictures that come to life when fingers feel them.

BBC CBeebies for special needs
Resources and help for children with additional needs from the BBC, including Mr Tumble!

ITV Signed Stories
Signed Stories help improve the literacy of deaf children from infancy upwards. The website also provides useful advice and guidance for parents, carers and teachers of deaf children, and for the deaf parents of hearing children.

The Letterbox Library
Catalogue of disability-related books for disabled children and their siblings, and for use in school or other settings, that promote understanding and explain 'difference' for all ages from babies to eleven years old.

Twinkl has lots of wonderful resources and ideas to stimulate and entertain children of primary school age. And the Twinkl SEND resources are well worth checking out for fun stuff to do at home.

Singing Hands on YouTube has videos of songs signed in Makaton. And they will be doing live sessions on YouTube at 10.30am.

Bumble bee physio London are doing live physio for children who are wheelchair users at 10am on their Facebook page.

David Walliams is releasing a free audio story everyday for 30 days

Joe Wicks, TheBodyCoach, is running live PE session on You Tube every morning at 9am.

Storyline Online, streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children's books alongside creative illustrations. 

If your children are into animals and the natural world, National Geographic Kids on You Tube has lots of fantastic, interactive videos.

Khan Academy Kids is an educational app for children aged two to seven. Animated characters guide children through educational materials. It's an American app but lots of relevant activities.

And here is an article with tips for games and activities to do with children with special educational needs, that are not screen based - many of them indoors.

Keep up-to-date with our latest news

You can also keep up-to-date with everything by signing up to What's new, our regular free e-newsletter.