How we’re helping disabled children access social fun and play

Thursday 27 January 2022
Alfie, A young boy with Down Syndrome smiling at a person to the side of the shot

Disabled children tend to have fewer opportunities to play and express themselves. But it doesn’t have to be this way, as Action for Children services have proved

For most children, time after school and on the weekends is precious. It's time spent with friends, playing games or taking part in hobbies and activities. But not so for many disabled children, who miss out on these experiences.

Debra Sodano is the service coordinator for Action for Children’s Social Opportunities project in Bury. She tells us how this project provides a space for disabled children, aged 5-18, to socialise and play.

Social opportunities they would otherwise miss out on

Explaining how the service works, Debra says, “Many of our young people will make and see their friends in school. But unlike other children who can then play out unsupervised, or go to the cinema together, our children are not in a position to do that.

[We provide these children] the freedom to come and hang out together. They get to take part in what they wouldn't normally be able to do.

Debra and a young boy in a wheelchair playing. A small box of wet sand is played on the young boys lap and both their hands are messy..jpg

Debra (pictured on the left) and the children engage in a wide range of activities, including sensory play.

"The children come to us after school and at weekends... they can come together, make friends, take part in activities and just be themselves."

The activities are not always something out of the ordinary either. There’s a focus on trips into the community and social development.

What they do can be as simple as visiting the local shop, going bowling or to the cinema. But providing these children with a safe space to be part of their community is really important.

Socialising and play help children learn lifelong skills

The opportunity this service provides is central to the children’s development. These children have a lot of fun. But they get to develop their communication, physical and social skills too. All skills they can use throughout their lives.

Two young happy girls sitting on  a couch playing a game

Without this service, these children would miss out on so many experiences.

Debra has been working at this service since day one – 20 years ago. She sees and knows first-hand the value it brings to these children: "I’ve seen all the kids come in, go through the service and then come out the other end. When the children move on we see they’re living productive and fulfilling their lives."

“I can think of one young boy who’s been with us for over 12 years,” Debra continued. “We’ve worked with his school and other services to help him develop his communication. He struggled with that when he first joined.

“But he’s improved so much. He’s grown in confidence and self-esteem. He’s taken on a bit of a mentor role when we have new people join too.”

I’ve seen all the kids come in, go through the service and then come out the other end. When the children move on we see they’re living productive and fulfilling their lives.


Going above and beyond

Debra and the service staff are passionate and committed to the work they do.

Young boy standing at his door holding a parcel with deliveries from Action for Children Staff.jpg

Staff spent hours writing letters and delivering parcels to the children and their families.

When the country went into lockdown in 2020, they were the only disability service in Bury to remain open. They knew this would be a challenging time for the children. They knew there was something they could do to help.

“We delivered medication and food parcels and activities our families. We met the children via Microsoft teams, and did telephone calls with the parents,” Debra said. “That sort of broke down their isolation a little bit.”

For some families they support, the service is more than a social club – it can be a lifeline. If a family is struggling financially, the team will provide food vouchers and even Christmas presents for their children. It’s a massive relief for parents during those difficult times.

Award-wining team

The team’s dedication to go above and beyond has not gone unnoticed. Debra could share countless bits of positive feedback from the families. Hearing how the service helps the children and their families is one of her favourite parts of the job.

One of Debra’s proudest moments was finding out the team had won an award. They won the Community Spirit Award at BBC Radio Manchester’s Make a Difference Gold Awards.

She said, “It was extra special because [the nomination] came from parent. The fact that they – in the middle of a pandemic as well, when they had their own problems – took the time to make the nomination is really touching, and I think the team really appreciated it as well.”

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