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Devon’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Local Offer

Support in the early years

There are different levels of support for children and their families during their early years, which vary depending on your child’s needs. There are also things that you can do to support your child’s development.

Support for all children under five

The support available for all children is sometime called ‘universal support’. This can come from midwives, health visitors, GPs and early years education settings.


Midwives provide support during pregnancy, and for you and your child for a short time after giving birth.

Health visitors

Health visitors are there to support you and your child through their early years. They can help with things including:

  • emotional and mental health
  • healthy lifestyles
  • toileting
  • sleep problems
  • support with housing and financial concerns
  • developmental reviews

Early years settings

Early years settings include nurseries, childminders, pre-schools and other organisations which enable children to develop a variety of skills.

Early years settings use the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) to support planning activities for your child’s development including supporting social skills, independence, confidence and self-esteem, communication and language skills, as well as your child’s physical and cognitive development.

They can support you with activities to do with your child, parenting advice, play sessions, meeting other parents, universal and targeted support for your child and links to specialist support services for SEND.

Additional support

It can be difficult to know whether your child needs additional (sometimes called targeted) support, as they are all different and can reach age-related expectations at different times.

Our Health for Under 5’s website has lots of useful information from NHS professionals, including a handy developmental timeline covering every stage from pregnancy through to pre-school age.

The Foundation Years website also offers a useful guide about ‘what to expect, when?’ that can help you know what to expect as your child develops.

If you’re worried about your child’s development speak to your health visitor. If your child attends an early years setting you could also speak to your child’s key worker or Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO).

The Early Years Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO)

All early years providers are required to have arrangements in place to identify and support children with special educational needs (SEN) or disabilities and to promote equality of opportunity for children in their care.These requirements are set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. A child who is under compulsory school age has a special educational need if they are likely to have a learning difficulty or disability that calls for special educational provision when they reach compulsory school age or they would do, if special educational provision were not made for them.

All early years providers in the maintained, private, voluntary and independent sectors that are funded by the local authority must have regard to the Special educational needs and disability code of practice which provides statutory guidance on duties, policies and procedures. They are expected to identify a SENCO.

Maintained nursery schools must identify a member of staff (with Qualified Teacher Status) to act as SENCO. Childminders are encouraged to identify a person to act as SENCO.