November. It’s that time of year again when Pudsey is dusting off his eye patch and schools around the country are asking children to come in wearing spots (because we all have spotty clothes in our cupboards) to raise money for Children in Need.

Pudsey bear, the Children in Need mascot. A yellow bear wearing a spotted eye patch accompanied by the words Children in Need. The words 'in need' are crossed out and the words 'we're failing' written in their place.

What could possibly be wrong with supporting children who are in need?

Where to start? Firstly, there is the fact that many of their needs are being neglected by the current health, social and education system. There is also the issue that nights like Children in Need often depict families in a way to evoke pity rather than compassion.

A few years back, I sat down to watch Children in Need with our son who was about eight at the time. After a humorous sketch, the violin music piped up and greyscale images of a family, just like ours, were shown. Thanks to the help of their local children’s hospice, within two minutes, the music was no longer sombre, the colours were vibrant and smiles abounded on the faces of the family.

These sad people who needed my help were just like me. I suddenly saw it all so differently. As I snuggled with my son, I shifted awkwardly in my seat a as he watched the images of a girl just like his brother. We switched off the TV, carried on with our evening and haven’t watched Children in Need again since.

We aren’t ‘different’. We aren’t ‘other’. Not really.

Yes, we need more support.

True, we have challenges most people have no idea about.

But we are also just a family like any other.

We need an NHS which will care for our health needs, a social care system which will support us and an education system which nurtures and focuses on our children’s needs rather than its own targets.

Charity has a place in society but families like mine don’t need pity. We want our children to be valued and supported as people with dreams, aspirations and intrinsic worth.

My son isn’t a ‘Child in Need’ as much as he is a child being failed by systems and services which are underfunded and overstretched. As a family we live painfully in the gap between the rhetoric spouted by politicians and the reality of our daily lives.

Sure, Children in Need will fund some of the things my son uses in the year to come. What would have a greater impact on his life, however, is not that shiny five pound note in a bright yellow bucket, but rather if every person who donated pressed upon our government. Lobbied the government locally and nationally to deliver services which would make families like mine less dependent upon charity for a good quality of life.

How can you help?

If you love watching and supporting Children in Need, please crack on with our blessing, but if you would like to understand other ways you can collaborate and be part of a collective voice trying to help children in our country (and around the world), please consider the following suggestions.

  • Lobby. Write an email to your MP. Statistics from tribunals show that Local Authorities are not doing their duty.
  • Sign up to the Disabled Children’s Partnership coalition who campaign for improved health and social care for disabled children, young people and their families.
  • Commit to some volunteer work to support community initiatives.
  • Add a vote to a campaign or join the voices of families who want funding to be protected in the upcoming cuts.
  • Find and regularly support a local charity. If you’re able to donate, do it directly to cut out intermediaries. Camp Jojo is my passion.
  • Do some fundraising throughout the year.
  • Disabled children become disabled adults. You can easily become an ally to disabled people including following high profile people on social media, such as Rosie Jones, Samantha Renke and Frances Ryan.
  • When it is time to vote again, you might consider asking questions about how those children who are marginalised and struggling through poverty, disability or displacement are supported by government policy.
  • Last but by no means least, be a role model.

This last point deserves more by way of explanation …

At its most basic, meaningful way, every single one of us can treat disabled and marginalised children AND their families as real people. Take a moment to make eye contact. Smile, say “Hello.” The greatest thing we can do with our own children is to lead by example about how to be inclusive. This can look like inviting the neurodiverse child to the class party. Make accommodations which are meaningful. Watch programmes and read books that celebrate diversity.

So, maybe this year, if you’d like to do something to help, you might consider delaying sitting on the sofa on this famous fundraising Friday night by twenty minutes to execute one or two things on the list above.

And when you do eventually park yourself in front of the gogglebox for this annual telethon, let’s not gloss over what you’ll really be watching.

This isn’t a story of ‘Children in Need’, it is a story of children and families who are being failed.

Rachel Wright is a qualified nurse and unqualified mum of 3, parenting a son with complex disabilities. She’s the author of The Skies I’m Under, host of The Skies We’re Under Podcast, an award-winning blogger and founder of Born at the Right Time. Passionate about effective communication and collaborative working, she uses her skills and lived experience to influence change, educate practitioners with CPD-certified courses and support families.

She is devoted to salt ‘n vinegar crisps and her middle son is writing a book titled, “My mum’s epic fails’. It is likely to have more than one volume.

The Skies We're Under Podcast

Born at the Right Time Specialist Training