29 February 2016
Source: Blind Children UK
Vlsion impairment in England (and the UK as a whole). It provides advice, support and a range of services to help children enjoy their childhood and reach their potential as adults.
One of the vital services provided by Blind Children UK is habilitation. Habilitation involves training children and young people, aged between 0 and 25, who have a vision impairment. They are helped to develop their personal mobility, navigation and independent living skills which can have a significant positive impact on their learning, confidence and wellbeing.
Blind Children UK conducted research with local authorities to find out how many children and young people with sight loss are accessing habilitation, the range of services offered and the factors that affect local authorities’ ability to deliver a comprehensive habilitation service. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request was sent to 152 local authorities, and 15 local authorities were interviewed verbally, asking them about provision in the preceding six months.
“Demand for habilitation is going up.” (Borough Council)
The research revealed that there is a patchwork of habilitation provision across England. Only 17% of children with sight loss received habilitation in the six months covered by the research. This is a figure that varies dramatically across the country, with some local authorities providing habilitation to a much as 64% of their local population of children with sight loss, and others to as little as 2%. We are concerned that with such low percentages of children receiving habilitation provision in many areas this indicates that there is unmet need. Interviews with council officials revealed the same concerns with one commenting:
“There is a difference though between what we are obliged to do, which we are able to do, and what we would like to do.”(Borough Council)
We discovered that there is a dearth of services for children outside of school age with just 3.5% of children aged 0-5 years old receiving habilitation in the previous six months and only one third of local authorities holding information about habilitation services for young people over 19. Habilitation for both these age groups is vital to enable children and young people with sight loss to access the same opportunities as their sighted peers.
Local authorities explained the key factors behind a lack of provision. They told us that funding challenges are threatening service provision, forcing some local authorities to have strict eligibility criteria to prioritise which children should receive services. We were told that even a small increase in demand could make it very challenging for their habilitation service to meet local need in some areas.
Compounding this, nearly all local authority representatives’ interviewed said that recruitment of Habilitation Specialists is difficult due to lack of trained staff, training opportunities and knowledge within local authorities on what habilitation is. One local authority explained:
“There is a national shortage (of staff) that is linked to the perception of the role which is very specialist.”(Borough Council)