Councils cut back on short breaks for disabled children

By Lauren Higgs, Wednesday 13 February 2013

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More than 60 per cent of councils cut spending on short breaks for disabled children last year, while 40 per cent intend to cut provision this year, an investigation by the charity Mencap has revealed.

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Councils are cutting short breaks provision for disabled children. Image: NTI

The research, based on local authority freedom of information requests and a survey of carers, also found that eight out of ten parents believe a lack of short breaks services is having a negative impact on their family life, while nine in ten report suffering high levels of stress.

Half of the carers who responded to the Mencap survey said they did not know how to access short breaks, while only three out of ten families said their local short breaks service fully meets their needs.

A further seven out of ten said they were unaware of their local authority’s short breaks statement, in which the council is required to provide information on local short breaks provision for children.

The report warns that families of young disabled people making the transition from children’s to adult services are particularly badly affected, with some parents saying their short breaks were stopped completely as their child went through the process.

Emma Harrison, assistant director at Mencap, acknowledged that the government has invested £1.2bn into short breaks for carers, but warned that services are still being eroded, because the money was not ringfenced, but handed to councils as part of the Early Intervention Grant.

“We are humbled by the love and care that so many families give their loved ones, but they are only human,” she said. “Without the lifeline of temporary outside care that they can trust, families told us that their physical and mental health is being put at risk.

“Family carers simply need a break, is that too much to ask? Yet these services continue to be heavily cut at a local level. The government must commit to ringfencing funding for short breaks and show its support – gratitude, even – to these families.”

Nicola, a 40-year-old mum of two disabled young people from Newcastle, added: “The stress, lack of social life and pressure on the wider family has made me feel like a failure and close to breaking point. Without short breaks, I lose friends, lose my identity, and become isolated and unable to provide the care my children need.

“There are plans to close both of the local authority short breaks units that my children use. It’s a tough double blow for the whole family. We get very tired and you need something to hold on to because it will be like this for the rest of our lives.”

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