Mum's anger after free nursery place offer is withdrawn
A MUM is battling to secure a free nursery place for her disabled son after she claims she was told care was available – only for the offer to be withdrawn.
Chelsea Leslie-Reed says she was advised by early years experts that her two-year-old son Noah would qualify for a free place.
But after approaching Staffordshire County Council, she was told that no funding was available.
Now the authority has pledged to look into her case.
Noah and his twin sister Lola were born three months premature at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire.
As a result, Noah suffers with cerebral palsy which was diagnosed in March.
Chelsea, aged 27, of Hill Terrace, Audley, said: "We have a lot of different advice offered to us with Noah because of the problems that he has.
"His health and development is discussed regularly at the Early Years Forum because we want to find the best possible option for him.
"The forum thought it would help with his development and speech problems if he attended nursery."
The forum, which is run by Staffordshire County Council as well as other authorities, told Chelsea that Noah would be eligible for care under the Staffordshire Think 2 pilot scheme.
This project provides Government nursery funding for families who meet a strict set criteria such as living in a disadvantaged area and claiming the same benefits used to assess free school meal eligibility.
Staffordshire County Council also has a limited number of discretionary criteria-based places.
Chelsea said: "We were really happy that the scheme could benefit Noah and we thought it would be brilliant for him.
"He was already interacting with children at a church group and was coming on leaps and bounds."
The family say they were told Noah was entitled to two-year funding, meaning he should have at least 10 hours of free nursery care a week.
Staffordshire County Council would pay a rate of £4.85 per hour directly to the nursery provider under the scheme.
But Chelsea, a sales co-ordinator, said: "A few weeks later the forum called me to say that Noah could not have the funding.
"I cannot even begin to explain how angry I am, all I want is what is best for my son."
The council says the Staffordshire Think 2 project was not aware of Noah's case.
County councillor Mike Lawrence, cabinet member for children's wellbeing, said: "Currently these free places are limited to families living in the most disadvantaged areas of the county who meet the same criteria used by schools to assess free school meals.
"However, a child with a diagnosed disability may qualify for one of the limited 'discretionary' Think 2 places as long as this is supported by a professional, for example a health visitor.
"We are more than happy for Think 2 to fund a 10-hour discretionary place in this case, as long as the criteria are met and there is an expression of interest from a professional."
Chelsea and partner Stephen Appleyard, aged 31, were paying £650 a month in fees for the twins to attend a nursery three mornings a week but it became too costly.
She added: "People may say we should pay for nursery, but that's not the point.
"We both work all the hours we can to provide a good life for our children and because of that it seems we are penalised."