Our story

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On this page you can read about our history and find out what we're doing now to confront the challenges faced by families with disabled children in the UK. Read more about the amazing work we do and the impact we have in our latest annual review.


Our past

Our work began in 1974 in Wandsworth, London, when families of disabled children were unhappy about the lack of support available to them.

In particular they were unhappy that there was nothing for the whole family, because the focus was put on just the disabled child. They were unhappy that no services were available locally and that there was no cross-condition support - services were specific to conditions, meaning that families had to travel further to find all the support they needed.


Our present

In the current economic climate we know the challenges faced by families with disabled children in the UK better than anyone. As the biggest shake-up of the welfare system in history takes effect, families are worried and the demand for Contact a Family's essential support and advice is greater than ever.

Whilst it's a challenging time for all charities, against the odds we have not only maintained our existing services but extended them to support more families with disabled children. But the need for our services continues to grow all the time.

Right now, in the UK:

  • one in seven families with a disabled child is going without food
  • almost a quarter go without heating
  • isolation has caused 25 per cent of families to break up
  • almost three quarters are going without leisure time so have no fun or break from the challenges they face
  • pupils with special educational needs are eight times more likely to be permanently excluded from school.

In response, last year Contact a Family:

  • provided one-to-one support to over 12,300 UK families caring for a disabled child at drop-in sessions and home visits
  • gave life-changing advice and information to over 10,700 families in crisis or need through our national telephone helpline
  • organised social events and opportunities for over 12,000 families to come together and forge lasting friendships
  • provided vital information guides and other publications to over 87,000 families
  • helped over 5,000 families to get a statement of special educational needs - a crucial and hard-won first step in gaining financial and educational help from local authorities.

We are now looking to the future and developing a new strategy for Contact a Family. We are determined to make the biggest difference possible to the lives of families with disabled children. But more than that, it's essential we make the right difference and that this is defined by families themselves. As ever families are at the heart of our decision-making and the input from parent carers has been vital in telling us the difference they want us to make.

During 2012 we did a lot of work with parents specifically helping us to decide what our priorities were for the next five years.

Overall we agreed with families that Contact a Family would continue to ensure that they felt valued and were strong, confident and able to make the decisions that are right for them. Also Contact a Family will continue to do this through parents and primary carers. We are currently developing plans across the UK to extend our support to families caring for older children and young people as they progress into adulthood.

Specifically, Contact a Family will work to deliver the following differences:

  • Families with disabled children will know how to get the right support. Families with disabled children need accurate, up to date and timely information so that they can take up the services and support that is available. Good quality services should exist to meet the needs of families with disabled children and to provide choices. Families need to know their rights. They need to connect with other families for mutual support. Professionals should be better equipped to support families.
  • Families with disabled children will be more confident to deal with the challenges they face. Families with disabled children should feel supported emotionally. They should feel listened to and their views should be respected by professionals. Families should feel less stressed and isolated.
  • Reducing the financial disadvantage that families with disabled children face. We are currently doing a lot of work on defining the financial disadvantage we know exists for families with disabled children, and how we can work to alleviate it.
  • Making sure families with disabled children are understood, valued and included as equals in their communities and society as a whole. Families with disabled children will be and feel respected and valued. Politicians will prioritise their needs and tackle the inequalities they face. The media will rise awareness of the challenges families with disabled children face in a way that presents them positively. The people families come into contact with, whether they are professionals or members of the public, will understand and welcome them.

Our future

We are determined to continue to fight for ALL families of disabled children, whatever their condition. We know we make a huge impact already but more and more families are coming to us in desperate need of our help. As a result, the demand for our services continues to be far greater than we can meet.

This is why Samantha Cameron helped us to launch our Stronger families. Happier lives appeal in October 2011.

We need to raise awareness of the plight of families with disabled children. We need to raise £6.5 million to give practical help and support to thousands of families who are at breaking point and are crying out for support.

Read more about the Stronger families. Happier lives appeal here