Let’s MOVE! Supporting disabled children to get their movement skills back on track

with Charlotte Peck of Enham Trust and Move Europe

Image of title with drawing of some people with movement disabilities

During the pandemic, thousands of disabled children and young people who rely on therapies such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and hydrotherapy had this support removed overnight. Some still don't have it fully back in place. This has undeniably seriously impacted their progress— it's hard to learn if you cannot sit comfortably.

Charlotte Peck of the Enham Trust, runs a small charity called MOVE Europe that delivers the MOVE Programme to over 1,050 children with physical disabilities across the UK, in over 120 special schools. The MOVE Programme teaches movement skills to those that struggle with sitting, standing and walking independently.

Charlotte says her charity has been hearing from many of our schools recently that children are still not accessing physiotherapy, have not received new equipment and have been losing movement skills over lockdown.

To re-emphasise what we have said before: Government guidance allows for therapists and external specialists to go into schools and has done for months. There is no reason that anyone should be preventing this from happening, whether a school or a therapy service.

Specialists, therapists, clinicians and other support staff for pupils with SEND should provide interventions as usual. They, as well as supply teachers, peripatetic teachers or other temporary staff, can move between settings. They should ensure they minimise contact and maintain as much distance as possible from other staff. Such specialists will be aware of the PPE most appropriate for their role. Schools should consider how to manage other visitors to the site, such as contractors, catering staff and deliveries, as well as cleaning staff on site who may be working throughout the school and across different groups. This will require close co-operation between schools and the other relevant employers.

Government Operational Guidance

That said, we're delighted that Charlotte Peck is here on SNJ to tell us more about their MOVE service.

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Supporting disabled children to get back on track by Charlotte Peck, Director of MOVE Europe.

While COVID-19 has impacted all children, disabled young people have been particularly negatively affected by the year of multiple lockdowns and their associated restrictions. As we look towards an easing of rules and a gradual return to school for all children, we need to discuss the implications of the last year on young people with complex physical needs and to raise awareness of the MOVE Programme as an effective, holistic practice/framework that can support them to recover.  

Our organisation, MOVE Europe, works with SEN schools across the UK. We provide training and support in the MOVE Programme, a functional mobility programme that brings the whole team around the disabled child together to focus on movement goals most important to the child and their family. Over the last year, we have had countless conversations with our schools about the additional challenges facing the children and families that they support, particularly those with complex physical needs. At the end of 2020, we surveyed our schools to get an overall picture of how COVID-19 has affected thousands of disabled young people across the UK.

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How lockdown impacted mobility for disabled children 

93% of the SEN schools we surveyed said lockdowns had adversely affected their students’ mobility. Our qualitative evidence from education and physiotherapy professionals across the UK highlighted the reasons why: during the COVID-19 pandemic it is not just access to education that disabled young people have missed out on, but also access to therapy input and specialist equipment. 

In many cases, physiotherapy teams were redeployed to the frontline of the crisis, and upon return to the school environment, faced a huge backlog of equipment reassessments which saw slower progress because of bubble systems and other COVID restrictions. This has led to many children not accessing the physiotherapy input and movement opportunities they need.

This is a significant issue for settings in which mobility responsibility is left solely to the physiotherapy team, as education staff do not have the confidence in their skills to bridge these therapy gaps, making negative outcomes more likely. Added to these challenges, are ongoing delays to medical procedures and surgeries which has further exacerbated skill loss and regression for children with long-term health conditions. 

All of these factors mean that disabled children are not accessing the opportunities they need to practice skills, leading to regression in their physical development and poorer overall wellbeing. Our findings are supported by SNJ's #ProvisionDenied survey, and the 'Longest Lockdown' report from The Disabled Children’s Partnership, which found that over 70% of disabled children could not access vital therapies, and over 50% of parents had witnessed deterioration in their child’s condition due to this lack of access to therapy and medical procedures.

Recover with MOVE

For schools that use MOVE (Movement Opportunities via Education), the MOVE Programme has given them the resilience to withstand the challenges.  87% of the schools we surveyed said that MOVE had upskilled teaching staff to be more involved in practicing mobility skills, which enables them to bridge gaps while therapy input remains limited:

“We have had significantly less physiotherapy input for many months now…However, as a high number of our education staff are MOVE trained, they have the necessary knowledge and expertise to ensure motivating movement opportunities are provided throughout the child’s school day” – Assistant Headteacher, London

“For pupils who need postural management and a physical activity programme…the MOVE Programme has been vital in helping them to regain movement skills before it was too late.”  – Neuro Physiotherapist, South Wales

Further, 76% said that MOVE had improved family involvement with their child’s mobility, which empowered families to keep providing movement opportunities throughout lockdown:

“Families have been extremely proactive and have worked hard to maintain and improve mobility programs” – Class teacher, Kent

“MOVE has helped young people and their families to maintain and improve physical independence at home” – Lead Professional for Pupils with PMLD, London

Because MOVE upskills both the education team and families to be involved in providing motivational, functional movement opportunities, we consistently saw that negative effects of lockdowns were mitigated.  

Charlotte Peck
Charlotte Peck

Sophie’s story*, told by her teacher and MOVE coordinator 

MOVE has not only ensured mobility improvement for hundreds of disabled children throughout lockdown, but is also now supporting the children who have lost skills to regain them quickly, and continue to progress says Sophie's MOVE coordinator:

Before lockdown in 2020, Sophie* was learning to stand for transfers and beginning to stand with support for personal care. She was managing short stands with lots of encouragement. This eliminated the need to hoist her from her wheelchair to other equipment in the room. 

In the first lockdown, her mother was able to take equipment home to continue practising skills, so Sophie didn’t lose too many skills during this time; however, the second lockdown has been very different for the family. There is no space to use the equipment inside her home and the weather has been too cold to provide her with outdoor movement opportunities, so her last opportunity to stand was in December 2020. Since Sophie has returned to school in March, she has lost the ability to weight bear through her legs. 

Despite this, we don’t think there will be long-term implications as once Sophie returns to school full-time, the whole education team will incorporate movement opportunities throughout her entire daily routine, supporting her regain her weight-bearing skills. 

If we weren’t using MOVE, I do not believe we would achieve the same outcomes. Before we used MOVE, most children lost skills as they got older, but since using the programme we have had some children walk out of our school at 18 when they had arrived in a wheelchair. MOVE has been the most rewarding programme I have ever worked on; it focuses on the goals most important to the family and because of this, it has long-lasting benefits into adulthood.” 

Sophie's teacher and MOVE Coordinator
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Thousands more could benefit

Sophie’s story is just one of many. Over 100 SEN schools across the UK are enabling thousands of disabled young people to recover and continue making progress using MOVE, but there are thousands more who would benefit.

We support the Disabled Children's Partnership's call for an ambitious and funded COVID recovery plan for disabled children, covering not just education but also health and wellbeing. As part of this recovery plan, we recommend the MOVE Programme as a best-practice framework to support positive health, wellbeing and education outcomes that should be accessed by all children that could benefit.

We are committed and ready to enable all disabled children to reach their full potential. Add your voice to our campaign and help us spread the word – just visit our social media or website and share our content with the hashtag #RecoverWithMOVE!

If you want to know more about MOVE and how it supports the development of independent mobility, please contact us to join an upcoming free ‘Introduction to MOVE’ webinar. 

*We’ve used a different name to keep the child anonymous. 

www.enhamtrust.org.uk/move | Twitter | Facebook | Email

Charlotte Peck, Director of MOVE Europe

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