Despite the law on children’s use of car seats changing five years ago this month (September), disabled youngsters are still being put at risk because families can’t afford to buy specialist seating. Newlife is concerned the situation is worsening as the price of specialist equipment keeps rising and neither the Government nor local statutory services will make provision.
Newlife is calling on the Government to reclassify these specialist safety seats so they can be provided by statutory services. This will help relieve financial pressures experienced by so many families of disabled children and enable mobility without compromising safety.
For the past five years, all children either under the age of 12 or up to 135cms in height have been required by law to use specified child safety seating. However, whereas standard child seats can cost as little as £50, specialist seating for specific disability needs retails at between £180 and £2,500. Car seats are currently classed by statutory providers as either ‘non-essential’ or ‘standard childhood’ equipment, so they will not foot the bill, leaving already financially-burdened families to either stump up the cash themselves or break the law and risk their children’s safety. Many turn to Newlife Foundation for advice and practical support.
In 2010/11, Newlife funded 226 car seats at an average cost of £922 each.
According to figures provided by the Office for National Statistics, more than 590,000 disabled children across the UK could need specialist car seats to ensure their safety while travelling.
Newlife campaign manager Clare Dangerfield said: “Having the right car seat can save lives; why should the safety of disabled children be any less important?”
She added: “We are the largest of only a handful of charities currently funding a range of specialist equipment so we are in a position to know the difficulties faced by an increasing number of families. Children with physical disabilities require more postural and safety support than able bodied children; in addition, inappropriate seating can impact on their health. Those with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour can risk their own safety – and that of those travelling with them as well as other road users.
“We have supplied seating to a child who had had to be resuscitated at the side of the road as the straps on a regular car seat caused him to choke. We have also provided car seats to allow children to leave hospital, because they were unable to travel without appropriate seating.”
She added: “Many parents have no alternative, they have to have a specialist seat if they want to transport their child by car. Those who can’t afford to fund the seating themselves turn to charities like ours; without our support they can’t drive their children around in safety.”
Newlife is concerned that some parents might feel they need to accept that travelling without protection is possible, by seeking a seat belt medical exemption certificate from their GP. Clare Dangerfield said: “We believe disabled children deserve the same protection from injury as able bodied children.”