For early years practitioners

6 mins read

This advice applies to England only.

We understand what families need to navigate the early years, and we want to help you improve your confidence and skills supporting them.

This page has information for practitioners developing inclusive approaches for children with SEND in mainstream settings and universal services, including family hubs. It may also be useful for practitioners working with children in specialist settings.

In this article

Introduction 

Families of young children with emerging or diagnosed special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) often look to the professionals they are working with to guide them through the start of their parenting journey. Bringing up a child with disabilities will be an unexpected experience for most families, and they may struggle at times to find their way through.  

We understand what families need to navigate the early years, and we want to help you improve your confidence and skills supporting them. This page has information for practitioners developing inclusive approaches for children with SEND in mainstream settings and universal services, including family hubs

Top tips from parent carers

Coming soon! Two exclusive videos on top tips from parents

We asked some families of disabled children to give us their thoughts on: 

Understanding early years entitlements  

All families with young children are entitled to certain help, and this includes families with disabled children. Below we explain available support you can talk about with the families you work with. 

Childcare  

Children with SEND have a right to the same educational opportunities as all other children, and they may need help in a mainstream or specialist early years setting.  

All childcare providers must take steps to welcome, include and support children with SEND. They cannot refuse a childcare place to a child because they have additional needs, and they cannot ask parent carers to pay more than other parents. 

Local authorities have a duty to make sure there are enough early years options for all families in the area. Information on childcare options and free early years provision for children with SEND must be published in the Local Offer.

Local authorities must ensure that all providers who deliver funded early education meet the needs of children with SEND.  This can include providing funding to early years settings to support individual children with SEND. Local authorities, and early years providers funded by the local authority, must meet legal duties, as specified in section 5 of the SEND Code of Practice

You can read about Early Years SEND support might look like on our webpage, support in the early years

Help with childcare costs   

All children aged three and four, and disabled children aged two, are entitled to free childcare hours – more for working families.       

From April 2024, for eligible families in England, existing childcare support for working families is expanding in phases. By September 2025, most working families with children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours of childcare support (from nine months to school age). 

Visit our webpage on paying for childcare for full eligibility details across all age groups.  

Inclusion and reasonable adjustments 

All early years providers have duties to disabled children under the Equality Act 2010. This includes: 

The reasonable adjustments duty includes three key requirements:  

The term ‘reasonable’ is not explicitly defined in the Act. Some (but not all) of the factors that may influence a decision are: 

Services can actively include and welcome children from under-represented communities by considering and asking families what they need. Some examples are:

Funded by the Department for Education, Contact has been working with some local areas to identify and address barriers for family hubs, for example to engage with Dads, with non-English speaking families, with parents who work shift patterns or are digitally excluded. Actively engaging with families from under-served communities in early years can enable improved wellbeing and outcomes for children with SEND.  

Parent carer forums in local areas may have links to community networks to engage with families from under-represented and under-served groups. We have developed a useful Diversity Toolkit in partnership with the Diversity Trust and Include Me Too, which has lots of resources and information. 

Further information for early years families  

Early years practitioners can play an important role in signposting families to useful. Many parents tell us that they felt lost and isolated in the early years when coming to terms with their child’s differences. Finding new support networks is a lifeline.  

It’s important to familiarise yourself with local and national organisations who you can point families towards for information and support. The local authority local offer is a useful starting point, you can also signpost parents to our information and advice and the Contact helpline, as well as the local  Parent Carer Forum.  

Below you’ll find some helpful links on our own website that you can signpost families to. They cover some of the topics parent carers commonly explore when their child has emerging needs or a new SEND diagnosis:  

Online information and advice

Workshop and training

The EYSEND Partnership

Contact is a member of the Early Years SEND (EYSEND) Partnership, funded by the Department for Education.

The EYSEND Partnership is a national programme supporting practitioners and professionals and parents with training, resources, and an approach to sharing learning. The aim is to increase access and inclusion in early years for children with SEN and disabilities. Our workshops with parents and practitioners, including strategic leads, services and settings, follow the Genuine Partnership’s Four Cornerstones Model.

Other partners include Dingley’s Promise, who support children with SEN in the early years, and Speech and Language UK.