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Having a disabled child in the family brings special challenges for parents. Every family is different, of course, but here’s some information you may find useful if you have a disabled child.
Note: We use the social model of disability, which acknowledges that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. It means we use identity-first language on this page, like a ‘disabled child rather than a ‘child with a disability’. We know that not everyone uses the social model – you may describe yourself differently. Scope has more on the social model of disability.
It’s hard work being a single parent – and having a disabled child can make it even harder. So it’s important to look after yourself, too.
If someone else offers to help, say yes. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. You might have friends and family that can help with day-to-day things or just be there to talk to. Small things can go a long way.
You may want to look into setting up temporary care for your child to give you short breaks. This is called respite care – it can be during the day, evening, or overnight. Scope has more on respite care.
This will give you a chance to make time in your daily or weekly routine that’s just for you. If you can make it a habit, you’ll be more likely to stick to it. And your family will get used to you having time for yourself.
Even something as simple as going for a walk, having a cup of tea with a friend, or having a quiet hour alone can make all the difference. And taking care of yourself can help you be a better parent.
It can be really helpful to find a local or online group of parents who understand the things you’re facing. They can help you see what’s good about how you’re raising your child and how to meet certain challenges.
As a carer, you can get a free assessment from your council to see what might make your life easier. This is separate from your child’s care needs assessment, but you can ask for them to be done at the same time. Watch a video about carers’ assessments.
During the carers’ assessment, a visitor from the council will ask about how you’re coping with caring. They’ll be looking at how this affects your health, work, free time and relationships. You can have a friend or relative with you during the assessment if you want.
If you qualify for help, the council will create a care plan explaining how they can help. This might include:
This support is usually free, but some councils assess what carers can afford to pay. If you don’t qualify for help, your council should give you advice about where you can get help and support.
Contact has more about carer’s assessments, including template letters you can use to ask for one.
It can be hard for children to have a disabled brother or sister. If you have other children, you can help them by:
Sibs is a charity for siblings of disabled people. They have lots of information and advice for both parents and children – including how to deal with emotions, school life and learning about conditions.
Your local council has a duty to give you help if you have a disabled child. Some social care services are free while the council may ask you to pay towards others.
All councils in England have to publish information about the local support, services and facilities for disabled children on their website. This must cover education, health, and social care services – and can include:
The first step to getting social care support is for your council to assess your child’s and family’s needs. This is called a care needs assessment. You can ask your council for this over the phone, but it’s better to ask in writing. Contact has a guide to the assessment process which includes template letters you can use.
You can also ask your GP, health visitor, community nurse, paediatrician, or a voluntary organisation to contact social services for you.
You’ll be visited by a trained professional from the council like a social worker or occupational therapist. They’ll talk to you about your child’s needs. For example, they might ask about how your child communicates, their routine and eating habits, and if you have any other children to look after.
To get ready for the visit, think about what you find hard, what kind of help might be useful, and what questions you have. You can have someone you know with you during the visit, like a friend or relative. They can help if you don’t feel confident explaining your situation and make notes for you.
Afterwards, you’ll get a care plan. This is a written agreement setting out how your council will help you and your child.
Sometimes a council might decide a child doesn’t need any support and close the case. If this happens to you and you think it’s wrong, you can challenge the decision.
Instead of having support organised by your council, you can choose to get the money to buy these services yourself. The money goes straight into your bank account as a direct payment. You should get enough to cover the cost of the support laid out in your care plan.
This gives you more control and flexibility over the support for you and your children. It can also be helpful if the support in your area isn’t right for your child or has long waiting lists. But you will have to arrange and manage the care.
Your disabled child might have a hard time with things like reading and writing, talking and listening, physical activities, or social interactions. If they’re considered to have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), they should get extra support at school – like additional prompts in class, adult support during break time, or emotional support.
If this isn’t enough for them, you can ask your council to make an education, health and care (EHC) needs assessment. This might give your child an EHC plan explaining the extra support they need. This will help the school’s SEND coordinator make adjustments.
If you’re in Wales, you’ll need to ask for an Individual Development Plan (IDP) for your child.
Contact has guides on the special educational needs system in England and in Wales.
Under the Equality Act 2010, it’s against the law for schools and other education providers to discriminate against disabled children. They have to make reasonable adjustments to support them. This means that schools can’t refuse to admit a child just because of their disability and can’t stop them from taking part in activities with other children, like break time.
You can ask to see a school’s policy on special educational needs so you know what support your child should be getting. IPSEA has information on what to do if you think your child has been discriminated against because of their disability.
There are various ways you can get help with the costs of looking after a disabled child. It’s important to make sure you’re not missing out on any financial support you could get for your family.
Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is the main benefit for children under 16 with a disability or long-term health condition. It helps to meet the extra costs that you might have. If your child is 16 or over, they’ll need to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) instead.
Many parents assume their child won’t qualify for DLA. But DLA isn’t just for physically disabled children – it covers a wide range of conditions including mental health, behavioural conditions and learning disabilities. Your child doesn’t need to have a diagnosis. You can claim if your child needs a lot more care or attention than a child of the same age who isn’t disabled. If you qualify, you’ll get a weekly payment based on your child’s needs.
DLA is divided into 2 components:
Your child may qualify for one or both of these. They could get between £26.90 and £172.75 a week, depending on how much help they need.
You can download the claim form, or call the Disability Living Allowance helpline on 0800 121 4600 to have one sent to you. It’s generally better to call, as your form will be stamped with the date you called. Then if your child is approved for DLA you’ll be paid from that day.
Contact, the charity for families with disabled children, has tips for completing the form.
If your child isn’t expected to live for more than 6 months, the DLA process can move more quickly.
Citizens Advice has more on claiming DLA for a terminally ill child.
If your child qualifies for DLA, you might be able to get higher benefit payments, help with travel costs, and other benefits like Carer’s Allowance.
Getting DLA unlocks higher payments of Universal Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. You’ll need to let the relevant benefits office know that you have DLA. If you get Universal Credit, this extra money is called the Disabled Child Element.
You’ll also be exempt from the benefit cap, which limits the total amount of benefits a household can get.
This is the main benefit for people looking after someone who’s disabled. You could get up to £76.75 a week if:
Make sure you claim as soon as you get DLA approved. You can backdate your claim by up to 3 months.
Claiming Carer’s Allowance can affect other benefits that you or your child get. Even though your other benefits payments may change, your total benefits payments will usually go up or stay the same. If you’re worried about how you’ll be affected, talk to us before you claim.
If your child gets the higher mobility rate of DLA, you may also be able to get discounts on travel, such as:
Contact has more about the Blue Badge scheme.
You may be able to apply for a grant to help meet your child’s needs.
If your home needs to be adapted to meet your child’s needs, you may be able to get a Disabled Facilities Grant. This could help you pay for things like installing ramps, widening doorways, improving access to your garden or building a downstairs bedroom.
Disabled children under 18 can get the grant without their parents’ income being taken into account. The grant won’t affect your benefits.
You can apply for the grant through your local council. The council may send an occupational therapist round to see you to see what changes you need.
They then have 6 months to make their decision. It’s important not to start working on your home until you get the grant. If you do, you may not get any money at all.
You may need to apply separately for planning permission or building regulations approval. The council might ask you to use a qualified architect or surveyor to plan and oversee the work. If you get a grant, you can use it towards the cost of their fees.
Date last updated: 16 August 2023