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Support and childcare for early years children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

At Suffolk County Council we promote equality and inclusion, particularly for disadvantaged families, children in care, children in need, children with disabilities and children with special educational needs.

This includes working with parents/carers and providers to remove any barriers to accessing early education and to support all children to fulfil their potential.

Last reviewed May 2021

Early education providers must meet the child's needs

We hold a List of Providers which are groups and individuals approved to offer grant funded early education places to eligible 2, 3 and 4 year olds in Suffolk. They include childminders, pre-school playgroups, day nurseries and school nursery classes.

Some maintained and academy trust schools also provide funded early education places in Suffolk. Whilst these schools do not have to join the List of Providers, the same legal requirements and expectations for including all children is placed on them.

To be a member of Suffolk’s List of Providers all providers must comply with their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 and the SEND Code of Practice 2014.

If we become aware that a provider is not meeting a child’s needs, the council’s Early Years and Childcare Service work with them initially to make them aware of their responsibilities and our expectations.

If a provider continues to be unable or unwilling to meet the required standard they will be removed from the List of Providers.

If your child is experiencing difficulties having their special educational needs met in a pre-school, nursery or with a childminder please contact the Suffolk Family Information Service to let us know.

What the law says about including children with SEND in childcare

Under the Equality Act 2010, a child cannot be excluded or denied a place due to health or developmental needs. Childcare and early education providers must support and enable all children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) to access their provision and the Early Years Foundation Stage.

They must provide an inclusive environment which reflects their duty to promote equality and their obligations as outlined in the Act.

For a child with SEND this may mean that they require auxiliary aids in order to be fully included. Auxiliary aids may mean extra or special resources, additional specialist training, building adaptations and in some cases more staffing.

Under the SEND Code of Practice 0-25 2014 every childcare and early education provider must have a named special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCo).

If the SENCo identifies that a child needs additional support they can contact the council’s Early Years and Childcare Service for information, advice and support.

We provide training for SENCos to help them to understand and meet the requirements of their role in supporting children with SEND.

Suffolk County Council helps providers include children with SEND

We provide:

  • Advice to childcare and early education providers to help them effectively include children with SEND.
  • Help providers with an Education Health and Care Plan application or assessment.
  • Help to providers to support families to apply for a place in a Special School.
  • Help to support a child with SEND moving from pre-school into school.
  • Help to identify speech and language delays and to identify children who need a referral to Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) services.
  • Training.
  • Letting them know about other services which might be helpful.


  • Information about the child’s early education entitlement and how the child’s needs can be supported in an early years and childcare setting.
  • Information about school choices.
  • Letting you know about services and organisations that might help you and your child.
  • Childcare brokerage, to support parents/carers to find a suitable childcare/early education provider.
  • Early Bird courses for parents of children who are of pre-school age and have recently received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Early Bird Plus courses for parents and school staff of children aged 4-8 who have recently received a diagnosis of ASD.

Contact the Suffolk Family Information Service for more information.

Extra support available for children with SEND

For most children with SEND the early education provider’s hourly rate for the free entitlement for two, three and four year olds. This includes an amount to enable providers to meet the children’s needs as soon as they are identified.

A childcare provider can apply to Suffolk County Council Early Years and Childcare Service for an additional payment through the Inclusion Fund. This will help them support your child for a short time while they are exploring how best to meet your child's needs.

Also, all members of the List of Providers can apply for Early Years High Tariff Needs (HTN) funding if they have an eligible child accessing all or part of their free entitlement with them. This helps the provider to meet the needs of the child. The provider is expected to:

  • make sure the child receives his/her full entitlement to early education;
  • provide extra staff for the sessions the child attends where appropriate; and
  • provide resources and/or equipment to support the child’s inclusion in the provision where appropriate.

Suffolk County Council can also loan specialist equipment (for example, specialist seating, sensory equipment) where needed to providers so that the child can access their early education entitlement. 

Please speak to your child's Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) at your chosen childcare provider. 

For further information and resources visit the Suffolk Local Offer website

Dual placements with a special school assessment nursery

Some 2, 3 and 4 year olds with SEND split their early education entitlement between a special school assessment nursery and a local early education provider. 

Requests for a place in a special school assessment nursery are considered once a year by Suffolk County Council's Inclusion Service.

Please speak to your child's Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) at your chosen childcare provider if you think your child may benefit from an arrangement like this.

Early Learning Together Service

Before a child becomes eligible for a free early education place some families with children with SEND receive this service. This can be a home or group based early education service for the families and carers of eligible children, which uses the principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and Portage strategies. To be eligible for the Early Learning Together Service the child/family must meet one of these criteria:

  • 2 areas of delay and the parent/carers would like support to engage effectively with their child’s early learning
  • Any family who we believe will meet the eligibility criteria for a free early education place and the parent/carers would like support to engage effectively with their child’s early learning
  • Children placed in kinship arrangements (living with family members but not their parents)
  • Children at risk of being taken into the care of the Local Authority
  • Children in ‘new’ foster placements
  • Children with young parents

Children who receive this service are supported to take up their free entitlement as soon as they become eligible. 

Education, Health & Care Plans for children in early education

How the Education, Health & Care Plan (EHCP) process is supported by Suffolk County Council's Early Years and Childcare Service:

  • We attend the EHCP panel which considers requests for an EHCP.
  • We offer support to early education providers so they can give evidence to the panel.
  • We hold meetings to agree support for the child in the school or early education provision when a request for an EHCP has been refused.
  • We support childcare and early education providers to hold annual review meetings of the EHCP.
Disability Access Fund for 3 and 4 year olds in early education

The Disability Access Fund is an amount of money that an early years provider can claim, it is £615 per year per child aged three or four years old.

It is used to support the child's needs while they are in an early education place with a private, voluntary and independent childcare provider (not in school).

You can apply to get disability access funding if your child is aged 3 or 4 and you’re receiving both:

If your child might be eligible for Disability Living Allowance then apply as soon as possible 

If you need extra help and support Contact a Family has really useful information and advice for parents.

Guide to childcare for children with special educational needs and disabilities in England

Choosing the right childcare can be a difficult decision for every parent, particularly if your child has a special educational need or disability (SEND). This useful guide published by Corum Family and Childcare will help.


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