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Support for all children aged 0-5 from birth to starting school...

Advice page content

All parents with children including those with additional needs or disabilities need advice and support from time to time. This page explains about services that everyone can access and what their enhanced offer is. 

Some families with children with additional needs and or disabilities need extra support from services and some need specialist services. You can find out more about both these options further down the page. 

Your child's journey from birth to five...

This resource has been created to support your journey into parenting.

Birth to five years is a key time in your child's physical, emotional and social growth and development. The experiences you create together during this time can last a lifetime.

Our journey from birth to five years provides you with trusted, age related and local information to help you to find your path through the many local activities and services available to support you and your family in Hackney.

Find out more about Hackney's "Birth to five" resource here. 

Development milestones

Different children will develop skills at different times. The NHS offers parents developmental ages and stages checks. Their online advice can help you measure and understand expected developmental stages. If you have concerns about your child's development GP's and Health Visitors are there to help. Find out more about pregnancy and baby reviews on the NHS website here.

Find out more about services and support options in Hackney below...

Page last moderated: 11/08/20

What to do if you are worried about your child or about their development...

If you are worried about the progress your child is making e.g. their walking, talking, learning or behaviour or you think your child may have additional needs or a disability you can talk to:

  • your doctor / GP
  • your health visitor
  • someone in their early years or childcare setting
  • someone in one of Hackney’s Children’s Centres 

To help others understand why you feel worried about it is useful to write down examples and take these with you to appointments. This helps you remember what you noticed so you can be clear when you talk with your; health visitor or GP. Talking about your concerns with the right people will help you find support.

Tip for parents. If your child has a physical symptom that only shows sometimes, it may help health visitors or GPs understand what is happening if you can film an example on your phone to show them.  Always make sure that your child is safe e.g. someone else may need to hold them while you film. Use your own phone so that you keep control of the film.

If it is one of these people that think have a concern about your child they must discuss this with you and help you find out what kind of support your child might need. They may also tell the local authority so that you "are known" to the services. This is to be helpful and supportive for you and many parents will have already worked with the services.

These people can help you find other parents to talk to who are in the same situation if this would be helpful.

You can contact the local Parent Carer Forum HIP or attend one of their events to meet other parents of children with additional needs. This can be helpful as you will find parents with similar experiences who can share what they have learnt about services strategies and support. 

City and Hackney Family Nurse Partnership

The Family Nurse Partnership is a voluntary home visiting programme for first time young mothers (and fathers) aged 19 or under. A specifically trained family nurse from the service can visits young mothers from early in their pregnancy until their child is two. Find out more about City and Hackney Family Nurse Partnership here.

How do services support young children with SEND?

Doctors and GP’s

When you register your baby's birth you will be given a pink registration card to sign. You can take this or post it to your GP to register your baby with them. It is important to register your baby with a GP as early as possible so they can give advice or help if needed. You can contact your GP at any time and most GPs have regular child health clinics. You can find a GP using this NHS Choices - find a GP service. 

Health visitors

Health visitors are nurses or midwives trained to offer support to all families with children under 5.  They make visits to families with new babies, carry out development checks, provide advice to parents about crying, how to support a baby’s sleep pattern and more.

Health Visitors work with parents and local services like Children’s Centres, social care services and GPs. This helps ensure families get the support they need for a good start in life.

Families with more complex issues can get support from Health Visitors for longer. Find out more about Health visitors here.

 27 Month Integrated Review

Children living in Hackney who go to a registered nursery, playgroup or Children’s Centre can have an Integrated 27 Month Review in their day care setting .

This review is an opportunity to understand you child’s social, emotional  and physical health. It looks at:

• immunisations

• healthy weight

• growth

• behaviour management

• sleep management

• toilet training

• keeping your child safe

• dental care

• development and learning needs in the nursery

• development and learning needs at home

By bringing you, a Health Visitor or Community Nurse and the nursery Keyworker together to talk about your child's progress, a complete picture can be developed. You can share any concerns so your child's needs are better understood and planned for.

Find out more in the 27 Month Integrated Review fact sheet here and online in the Happy, Healthy and Ready to Learn advice here.

Children’s Centres in Hackney

Children’s Centres are for families with children under 5. They offer free stay and play drop-in sessions, advices and support, access to child and family health services and childcare. Find out more about Children’s Centres in Hackney here

BEST Start with HENRY (Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young)

Health services can help families develop and maintain good diets and habits around eating. HENRY offer popular fun programmes designed to give babies and young children (0-5 years) a good start and to help the whole family to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Find out more about  HENRY (Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young) here.

Speech and Language Therapy

If your child finds talking, communicating, drinking, or swallowing difficult, a Speech and Language Therapists can help. You can talk to a therapist at monthly Talking Walk-in groups run regularly at Children’s Centres across Hackney. You do not need to make an appointment and you can get advice on the day from a Speech and Language Therapist.

Children who have significant needs for example ongoing complicated feeding difficulties will get more support.

Parents comment - “I realised at weekends that I was “translating” what my child was saying for his Dad. I was able to understand what he wanted because I spent more time with him. The Walking Talking drop in group was very useful and the beginning of trying to understand my child’s needs and how I could help him. The Speech and Language Therapists at the group were very helpful and helped me find out about other services.”

Find out more about Hackney's Children's Integrated Speech and Language Therapy here.

Childminders, playgroups and nursery SENCOs (special educational needs coordinator)

If your child goes to a playgroup or nursery you can ask to speak to your child’s allocated keyworker or the SENCO to discuss what you have noticed or are concerned about. 

Registered childminder's network coordinators work with parents and services and can support childminders and parents to access training, advice and support. 

Area SENCos are specilaists who work with early years settings and can give advice about emerging additional needs and medical conditions. 

What specialist support services are there for children under 5 years old?

Hackney Ark - centre for children and young people with disability and special educational needs 

Hackney Ark is a centre for children and young people with disabilities and additional needs. It brings together services from a range of services to provide an integrated response to the needs of disabled children and their families. Find out abou the full range of services at Hackney Ark here.

Hackney Ark's Resource Centre and the centre coordinator helps families find useful information about services, schemes and funding. The resource centre coordinator can support families with form filling and making applications. 


If your child does NOT yet go to a nursery or a playgroup, and has significantly delayed development Hackney's Portage service can help.

Portage work with families to understand their individual child’s development. They provide a targeted home-visiting service, offer practical ideas to help with child development, work with other specialist services, and can support your child's move into a playgroup or nursery setting.Hackney's Portage service run a regular drop in group for children on the service's waiting list so that there is regular contact once you are known to the service. Find out more about Hackney's Portage service here 

Keyworking Team

The Keyworking Team work with families with children who have been newly diagnosed with complex health and social needs requiring at least two specialist services from Hackney Ark. to be involved. The Keyworking Team also support families with a child with complex health and social needs when they are new to the borough.  Find out more about Hackney's Keyworking Team here 

Speech and Language Therapy

If your child is having difficulties talking, communicating, drinking, or swallowing, a Speech and Language Therapists may be able to help. Monthly Talking Walk-in groups are held at Children’s Centres across the borough. You do not need an appointment and you can get advice from a Speech and Language Therapist. Children with significant additional needs including feeding related difficulties will be given more support.

Find out more about here Speech and Language Therapy in Hackney.

Educational Psychology Service

Educational Psychologists work collaboratively parents and children, parents and settings staff to help ensure children with additional needs receive the right sort of help. They also help to ensure that very young children, who may have additional educational needs and require extra help, get the support they need either before or when they start school. The service runs a regular Educationa Psycology Service Parent Advice line

Multi-Agency Referrals (MARS)

Children who have health and social care needs that mean more than one service is involved in their care and support, may be referred to M.A.R.S. at Hackney Ark by their hospital or GP.  MARS meetings are a forum for professionals to talk about new referrals to the Ark and share progress information on existing cases.

You can find more information on Multi-Agency Referrals (MARS) here

Education Health and Care (EHC) Assessments

Children who - despite additional support being put in place make significantly less progress than expected and the reason for this is thought to be due to an additional need or disability may need an education health and care assessment to identify and coordinate ongoing support.

  • Parents or professionals can request an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment for children with SEND. These assessment might lead to an EHC plan being put in place to support the child’s identified needs.
  • An EHC plan is a legal document describing a child or young person’s SEND needs, and detailing the extra support needed from various services to help them progress and develop.
  • If an EHC plan is in place for a child under 5 it will be reviewed every 6 months to see what is working well and what needs to happen next or be changed. 

Wellbeing and mental health services

Psychology services for children, young people and their families can help where there are concerns about emotional well-being, behaviour and mental health. They will listen to you and talk and think together with you, about what is going on and what might help. Some psychology services in hackney also offer specilist support to understand and live with disabilities e.g. autism. Different teams in Hackney work together as CAMHS Alliance (Child and Adoloecent Mental Health Service)

First Steps Early Intervention Community Psychology Service

First Steps is an NHS psychology service for children and young people aged 0 – 18 years and their families. This service is part of City and Hackney CAMHS alliance.  and works in partnership with other CAMHS services. The service offers early help with any difficulties related to behaviour, emotions and relationships before they become more complicated or difficult to address.

Find out more about First Steps Early Intervention Community Psychology Service - CAMHS here

CAMHS Disability Service

This service works with children and young people with moderate to profound learning disabilities. They meet with children, young people and families to think together about concerns, understand them better and work on agreed goals for positive change.

Find out more about CAMHS Disability Service here

Specialist CAMHS

Specialist CAMHS offer assessment and help to children, young people and their families with significant emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties. This service offers particular support for families with children who are autistic. Find out more about Specialist CAMHS - City and Hackney - Homerton Row here

Disabled Children’s Service

Disabled Children’s Service provide social care support for families with disabled children. This is the team that manages the Child and Family Needs Assessments which look at what support families with disabled children need.

The outcome of an assessment could lead to a support package in the form of Direct Payments, or through an approved care agency. Interim support can be provided during the assessment. After the assessment families can receive:

  • Help with personal care and social activities
  • Help from the Short Breaks Service

Find out more about Hackney's Disabled Children’s Service here

Short Breaks 

Short Breaks are how local authorities "provide, as part of the range of services they provide for families, breaks from caring for carers of disabled children to support them to continue to care for their children at home and to allow them to do so more effectively". A Short Break allows a disabled child or young person to have an enjoyable break away from their main carer and gives their carer a break from their caring responsibilities. Find out about Short Breaks in Hackney here

Support groups for parents and carers…

SENDIAGS - specialist information advice and support service

The Hackney SEND Information, Advice and Guidance Service (SENDIAGS) is an arm's length service providing impartial and confidential information, advice and support to parents and carers of children with SEND. The service runs regular advice and drop in sessions but you can also make appointments to speak to an advisor privately. Find out more about the service and useful information and resoures here Hackney SENDIAGS

National Network of Parent-Carer Forums

Finding out that your child has SEND can be a difficult time. Many parents find talking to other parents who are having similar experiences helpful. Each local authority has a parent carer forum funded by the Department for Education. Hackney's parent carer forum is called HiP - Hackney Independent Parent's Forum.
HiP are run by parent-carers for parent-carers. They put on SEND information sessions events. HiP wants parent-carers to have their voices heard when decisions about local services are made. Find out more about HiP – Hackney's parent-carer forum here.

As1 – parent support group

As1 are a group led by and for parents-carers of children and young people with SEND offering a community of individuals with shared experiences for friendship and support. The parent-carers of As1 believe parents are experts by experience and that they can use their experiences to help each other. Find out more abut As1 – parent support group here

Contact - for families with disabled children 

Contact are a national charity providing information, advice and support to parent-carers on a range of topics related to additional needs, disabilities and health conditions. Contact have years of experience is understanding what information helps parents and families. They run the free national SEND helpline offering advice on issues such as diagnosis and benefits. There are free high quality resources available on their website here Contact. 

Finding and paying for childcare…

Finding childcare

Hackney Family Information Service can help you find the right childcare and provide up to date lists of registered childminders, playgroups, nurseries and schools with nursery classes.  They offer information on:

Contact Hackney's Family Information Service by phone on: 020 8820 7590

Starting nursery or playgroup

Children who have significant delayed development and go to a nursery, playgroup or a childminder will be offered some support to help with their learning. This might be from:

  • the SENCo in the nursery, school or playgroup
  • the Early Support and Area SENCo Team - Inclusion and Specialist Support Team

The Early Support Team and Area SENCos (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) can advise parents and carers, provide teaching interventions and support parents at meetings during the transition to primary school. Find out more about  Early Support and Area Senco's here

Early Years Inclusion Funding

Specialist funding is available to help support children with significant needs attending childcare.  Registered nurseries, child minders and playgroups can apply for the funding on behalf of children in their settings. A decision panel meets to look at referrals and agree who is funded according to the needs of identified children The funding is for settings to use flexibly to pay for specialist equipment or short term one to one support while a child’s needs are being assessed. Find out more about Early Years Inclusion Funding here.


If your child does not go to a nursery or playgroup yet, and has significantly delayed development the Portage service may can help.

Portage work closely with families to help them understand their individual child’s development, provide a targeted home-visiting service, offer practical ideas to help with different aspects of child development, liaise with other specialist services, and help your child move into a playgroup or nursery setting.

There is a regular drop in group for children on the waiting list.

Find out more: Portage 

Preparing to start school…

Moving from one phase in life to another for example starting primary school is a big change in a child’s life. This is sometimes called transition or phased transition. 

What does the law say about pupils who have SEND?

The law says all schools must provide SEN support for a child or young person if they have special educational needs. Children and young people are considered to have SEND if they:

“Have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age”


“If they have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age.”

This government’s definition in the SEND Code of Practice - 2015. There is also a Parent’s Guide to the SEND Code of Practice 2015.

Most parents have some anxieties about how their child will manage school.  This can be especially true for parents of children with SEND and parents and others will want to make sure they are well supported.  Most children with SEND go to local mainstream schools in borough. 

Applying for a place at primary school

Children start primary school in the September of the year they are four years old.  This year is called their Reception year. 

All schools can support children with SEN (special educational needs) and disabilities. Find out more about SEN support in mainstream schools here. Schools have funding for this support.

Most children with SEND will go to a local mainstream school.  Children who have more complex needs may go to a school with additionally resourced provision or a specialist school .  You have a say in this as their parent or carer.

To help you find out what is available each school must have an SEN Information Report on their website. This explains how they support children in their setting.
Find out more about SEN information reports.

Help getting a child with SEND ready for starting school

Most children go to playgroup or nursery before starting school. This helps them get used to time away from parents and being with other children. Your child’s key worker or the SENCo (special needs coordinator) will prepare information to help with the transition to primary school. The school will want to know about your child’s abilities and progress and what support they need.

Early Support and Area SENCo Team

The Early Support team has Area SENCos, specialist teachers, who support children with additional needs and their families. They work with the early years settings and can give specialist advice on interventions to support children than need extra help. Their advice will help with the transition to primary school. Find out more about Early Support and Area SENCO Team here.

School Admissions and Pupil Benefits

The School Admissions team provide information about how to apply for a place at primary school. There is an online system and school admissions handbook that explains how to apply and how places are allocated. You can apply the year before your child starts up until the beginning of January in the year they start.

If there is a medical reason you child needs to attend a particular school you will need to provide evidence from a a medical consultant. This helps show the connection between your child’s needs and how being given a place at a particular school would help them.

The Pupil Benefits team can give you information on who can get free school meals and if school uniform voucher are available.

School transport for children with SEND

Some but not all children may need transport to get to the schools they will be attending. This may be because they are going to a specialist school that is not as near their home or because walking is harder because of a disability. Find out more about Schools transport for children with SEND here.

Children with EHC (Education Health Care) plan applying for school

Children who have an EHC Plan follow a different admissions process. This is so they are applying before other children and they have more choice. You will be given a preference form to say which schools you would like to consider.

Note: Remember to visit and check the Schools SEN Information Report.
Schools with additional resources for pupils with SEND

Children with more sever or complex needs may need to attend a school with additional resourced provision (ARP). Find out about types of school places for children with SEND in Hackney.

The local authority will consult with your preferred schools, to see if they can meet your child’s needs. Following this process, one of the schools you chose will be named on your child’s EHC Plan. For questions about this process contact the Special Educational Needs Buisiness SupportTeam

Information, advice and support

Free information, advice and support is available for parents of children with SEND. Contact SENDIAGS who can help explore your options if you disagree with a decision that has been made.

SENDIAGS Phone: 020 7275 6036 (Advice Line)

What services offer Family Support options?

Childcare for 2-4 year olds

Hackney Family Information Service (FIS) offer advice by phone. FIS guides on Hackney Learning Trust's website explain childcare options and list vacancies. Eligibility for  free childcare schemes include: 

Find out more about help paying for childcare here.

Hackney FIS advice line: 020 8820 7590

Children’s Centres

The 20 Children’s Centres in Hackney for all families with children under 5. They offer FREE stay and play drop-in sessions, family support, access to child and family health services as well as childcare.  There are a range of services for all children including those with SEND. Find out more about Children's Centres in Hackney here

Common Assessment Framework (CAF)

A Common Assessment Framework (CAF) referral, may be made to a Children’s Centre Multi-Agency Team (MAT) meeting for Early Help. Families may need support from Early Help if there are two or more needs that impact on a child and the child is not already supported by Hackney Ark

Hackney Ark's Resource Centre – Information and Advice. 

The Resource Centre is an advice and information service for parents and carers and service providers Books, leaflets, funding packs and free access to two computers are available for community use.  The Resource Centre coordinator offers support appointments for form filling. The Centre is often a venue for services to run support groups, parent coffee mornings and advice surgeries. Find out more about Hackney Ark's Resource Centre here.

Disabled Children’s Service

Disabled Children’s Service provide social care support for families with disabled children. This is the team that manages the Child and Family Needs Assessments which look at what support families with disabled children need.
The outcome of an assessment could lead to a support package in the form of Direct Payments, or through an approved care agency. Interim support can be provided during the assessment. After the assessment families can receive:

  • Help with personal care and social activities
  • Help from the Short Breaks Service

Find out more about Hackney's Disabled Children’s Service here

Short Breaks

Disabled children in Hackney can get Short Breaks, if they also receive middle to high rate Disability Living Allowance. Children aged 2-4 years old, are supported to access age appropriate settings such as Children’s Centres or nurseries. Inclusive services throughout the borough are happy to discuss access arrangements with parents.
If you have any questions or want to find out more about the Short Breaks offer for under 5's offer contact the service

Short Breaks advice line: 020 8356 6796

Things to do…

It is important for good development that all children have opportunities to be with and play with other children.

Hackney has a range of services available for children with a range of needs.
Some services offer sessions aimed only at children with disabilities. Some activities might needed to be adapted help children access them but it is part of a services duty under the Equalities Act to be inclusive.

Hackney's HIT Squad (Health Intergration Team) provide advice to setting on how to support individual children. HIT Squad offer free observations and training.

Phone HIT Squad: 020 7014 7174

“What’s on?” - Hackney's SEND Local Offer

This page is updated with information about activities in Hackney specifically for families and children with SEND. Find out more about what’s on.

Children’s Centres in Hackney

Children’s Centres are for families with children under 5. They offer free stay and play drop-in sessions, support, access to child and family health services as well as childcare.

  • Stay and Play at Children's Centres
  • Toy Library
  • Sensory Play at Children's Centres - Comet, Morningside, Lubavitch, Linden, Tyssen and Clapton Park

Family practitioners can help with a range of issues including; form filling, contacting other services and referrals. Find out more about Children’s Centres in Hackney here.

Young Hackney

Young Hackney run activities and works with partner services to provide high quality inclusive play. Year round 'youth work' programmes run from Young Hackney centres. Specific outreach youth programmes run in various venues around the borough of Hackney. Children and young people aged 6-19 and up 25 if they have support needs can access services. Find out more about Young Hackney services here

Adventure Playgrounds in Hackney

Adventure Playgrounds are free outdoor spaces for children to explore adventurous play. They usually have large wooden structures to climb on as well as other activities.  Play Workers encourages, support and supervise play. Open access means children free to come and go as they please or can be dropped off by parents or carers. Other supervision arrangements can be agreed in advance. Find out more about Adventure Playgrounds in Hackney here.

Hackney has a specialist adventure playground run by the charity KIDS. KIDS offers closed access for children with more profound needs and disabilities. Find out more about KIDS Adventure Playground here.

Parks and outdoor spaces in Hackney

Hackney has the largest expanse of green space in inner London.  It has 58 parks spread across the borough. Some parks offer extra features including:

  • play equipment
  • outdoor paddling pools
  • tennis courts
  • basketball pitch
  • football pitch
  • wooden gym apparatus
  • cricket pitch
  • outdoor table tennis tables
  • city farm
  • aviary
  • BMX cycle track
  • conservation areas
  • ponds and rivers
  • athletics tracks and more.

Some parks offer specific activities during the weekends and school holidays. Find out more about parks and outdoor spaces in Hackney

Swimming pools and leisure centres

Swimming pools and leisure centres in Hackney offer a wide range of activities. Inclusive sessions for children and young people with additional needs are availble and many leisure providers are members of a forum to share and develop Hackney's inclusive offer. Some centres specialise in one sports such as water sports at the the West Reserviour or Laburnum Boat Club.
Find out more about swimming pools and leisure centres in Hackney here.

HIT Squad offer training to all mainstream leisure providers in Hackney so do get in touch for support with accessing services.

Libraries in Hackney

Libraries in Hackney have under 5's story sessions which include rhymes and singing. These are a great place to meet other parents chat and make new friends. Free activities are often available for children during the holidays. Find out what’s on at Hackney's Libraries here.

Parents can request a Bookstart pack from The Book Trust at their local library. There are specialist packs for children with disabilities.


Parents of children who are blind or partially sighted can request:

  • Booktouch Baby (for children aged 0-2 years)
  • Booktouch (for children aged 3-5 years)


Parents of children who are deaf or hearing impaired can request:

  • Bookshine Baby (for children aged 0-2 years)
  • Bookshine (for children aged 3-5 years)

Bookstart Star

Parents of children who have a condition or disability that affects or delays fine motor skills can request a Book Star pack for children aged 3-5 years.
Find out more about Bookstart packs for every child here

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