equality and diversity
Parents, including those in a parenting role, children and young people, staff and volunteers involved in an out of school care service should expect that the service has a clear equality policy and is inclusive of local communities; including families of different faiths, language and culture. It is also illegal to discriminate in providing services or in employing people in terms of their gender, sexual identity, age or disability. The Equality Act 2010 (for more details SOSCN factsheet update No.1, is available for purchasers of our employer and staff handbook) consolidates much previous legislation in this area and defines "protected characteristics" which include gender, age, disability, faith, sexual identity, and the Act also makes provision, for example, for breastfeeding mothers, and for acknowledging the legality of civil partnerships.
The Act also brings in a concept of discrimination by association, or by perception. An example of this is making it illegal also for discrimination where a person may not be a holder of a protected characteristic in their own right. For example, by discriminating against the parent of a disabled child in making an employment decision (by wrongly assuming their carer duties means they cannot do their job well). This also applies where there is a mistaken assumption that a person holds a protected characteristic, and is discriminated against through that identification. A man or boy being assumed to be gay, (through perhaps stereotyping him because of his taste in clothes or music) and discriminated against, as if he holds that characteristic, even if he is not gay.
A service has to, by law; uphold their equality and diversity policies and practice. This means, for example, they are responsible for ensuring that the children in their care have their diverse needs met and are enabled to equally access the service. Furthermore, they are responsible for protecting staff and volunteers from third party harassment. For example if a caretaker in the building, although not employed by the service, subjected a member of staff to racial abuse, then the service would be responsible for protecting that member of staff. This would also apply to parents, perhaps a parent might have strong views against gay people and make this clear at a committee meeting, but this would be against equality law, and the service would have to ask that parent to desist from expressing such views. We always suggest that services make it clear to all users; parents and children, that discriminatory behaviour is not tolerated at the service.
Equality is not treating everyone exactly the same. It is allowed, under the Equality Act 2010, for voluntary positive action, in terms of extra provision of resources etc., as required, in order to enable the inclusion of a person with a protected characteristic; providing a space for breastfeeding mothers, for example, or employing an additional member of staff to support a child with a severe disability. "Positive discrimination" as such is not allowed, e.g. only inviting women aged 21-30 to apply for a post. There are some exemptions in law, where say a women's aid refuge is recruiting only female staff.
As pointed out in the Accessibility section and the Additional Support Needs section, services may not have suitable premises to include every child, but they must treat any request courteously and help parents, with advice, in order to find alternative support. They should always demonstrate that they have tried to find a way to provide a service to any child.