Scotland's Play Strategy: Playing with quality and equality: a review of inclusive play in Scotland

A review of inclusive play in Scotland.

11. Multiple Barriers

Disabled and disadvantaged children and young people in Scotland face multiple barriers to being able to play at home, at nursery, school, early learning and childcare and in the community, as part of their everyday lives. Many of these barriers are faced by children and young people across the board and are amplified by the intersections between poverty, disadvantage, disability and environment.

"We have worked hard to support our little one to have inclusive play with his siblings at home and on a daily basis within our street alongside his peers. However this requires lots of time, money for equipment and also the constant challenge from others (parents/families) who do not understand needs, abilities and behaviours. At no point have we ever been offered any support with play at home for any external organisation."

The review began from a position that very many children and young people in Scotland face barriers to play. The reality of that position has been confirmed through the review. Given the extent of responses to the review and depth of feeling expressed it is appropriate to re-state that this is the current situation for children and young people in Scotland.

The barriers faced by many children and young people impact on their rights in relation to health and wellbeing, optimum development, inclusion in society and their right to enjoy their childhood. Positive play experiences are now well understood to have long term benefits and to nourish us as adults. The impact of negative experiences - in our local neighbourhoods, communities, schools - also remains with us and can provoke powerful memories and feelings which impact on the way we see ourselves. Both being left out and being 'forced' to join in seem to have a lingering negative impact when recalled by young people we spoke to.

One young woman described how the discrimination she encountered as a child at school blocked her ability to play so that in the end:

"I just ending up strolling around at play time eating my snack".

She told us that:

"I strive for optimum play time. Because I didn't have the best time playing when I was younger, though I am older now, I could play and play."

Other adults commented:

"It's very lonely and alienating seeing all the 'mainstream' kids playing out or taking part in organised activities when your own child can't."

"…for children to play freely is still a long way off without them feeling continuously vulnerable."

"Wheelchair access can be a problem for our children, it is sometimes very difficult for the chairs to get over uneven ground in playgrounds, forests and countryside which stops them being able to play. In towns and cities they are not allowed to play ball games or have any appropriate and safe environments to play outside. When I asked the children they said that is why they spend most time in the house as there is nowhere else to go."

Families affected by disability can often find themselves in the 'poverty trap'. Research demonstrates a strong relationship between low income, social exclusion and disability among families in Scotland. Families with disabled children remain disproportionately likely to be in poverty. (Kemp P. et. al. (2004), Routes out of poverty, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

Growing Up in Scotland findings have also shown that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have less play at home and less perceived access to safe outdoor play space. (Scottish Government, 2012)

The complexity of feelings around inclusion in provision and opportunities for play was highlighted in the Literature Review. It quoted Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector research which found that 94% of the parents (of disabled children) surveyed thought that activities should be accessible to all; however, 90% of these same parents also thought that special programmes were necessary.

This situation was illustrated by observations made by participants in the review.

"The group provides separate services which are used as a stepping stone and practice for entering mainstream (if appropriate). Most of the children say that they have no friends and have experienced bullying. Most have tried mainstream groups and it hasn't worked. They feel safe at the group."

Throughout the review this tension has been apparent but positive examples were also offered.

"Through our outreach work we discovered a gap in facilities for children and young people with autism and Asperger's through dialogue with children and parents. We then sought funding allowing us to employ qualified staff to run an evening club to suit the age and needs of the individual children, through attending this club parents now feel more confident for them to join various sessions within our park and indoor facility."

The review served to highlight a number of number propositions which can be summarised as follows.

  • It is acknowledged that all this can be complicated and since everyone is different no one service, opportunity or style of play provision can meet the needs of every individual. However, there are many positives examples of inclusion in practice which work really well.
  • The degrees of complexity involved should not mask the underlying principles of non-discrimination, equality of opportunity and participation.
  • We need to think about what we can we do so that children and young people feel safe and welcome in mainstream provision rather than the opposite.
  • For many disabled children and their families trying something new can feel (and be) very risky on many levels: emotionally, financially, physically, or a risk to established arrangements and sense of hard-found equilibrium. It's very important that this sense of risk is understood properly in approaching the development of play opportunities.
  • These multiple barriers were responded to seriously - play is a fundamental part of childhood, and significant number of children in Scotland not able to exercise their right to play.

This is the vision

"We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up. A nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all our children and young people; in their homes, nurseries, schools and communities." Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision (2013) Scottish Government.

These are some of the things that could help achieve this.

It would help if:

  • The 'stepping stone' effect was examined more carefully to find ways to ensure it is as effective as it can be in practice - are there lessons to learn? How can we services learn from each other?
  • There was consideration of what quality play provision look like in schools. (See also section 7) Children and young people spend much of their time in school and many everyday opportunities for inclusion in and through play arise in schools.
  • There was a high profile campaign about play with an explicitly inclusive approach as has been called for throughout the review (see also Section 6)


Email: Deborah Gallagher

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