Government guidelines on short breaks have called for English councils to introduce a fairer system of allocating them to disabled children as part of a £370m programme to expand provision from 2008-11.
Eligibility criteria should not be determined by service availability nor based on "subjective judgements of professionals", councils and primary care trusts were told in guidelines on implementing the changes to short breaks, under Aiming High for Disabled Children reforms
Families should also be allowed to access councils' definitions of disability to make the system more transparent, the guidelines issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health said.
Twenty-one pathfinders areas have been funded to begin expanding short break services in 2008-9. Other local areas must demonstrate they are ready to transform services by March 2009 before they receive their first share of the £269m in revenue funding allocated for the programme.
Nine separate requirements will have to be met, including collecting "robust data" on the needs of disabled children and families producing a workforce development strategy for carers and other staff and appointing a service manager in both the local authority and primary care trust to lead the project.
Disabled children and families will have to be consulted on their preferences for short breaks and other aspects of the service.
Ann Baxter, chair of the Association of Directors of Children's Services' health, care and additional needs committee, said the requirement to collect data would be building on what directors already know about the needs of local children. She added: "Children's trusts have known this was coming for a while, so have had time to prioritise and work with colleagues."
A further £90m in capital funding will be provided by the DCSF, with £11m held back to support delivery nationally. The DH will also identify specific money in PCT budgets for short breaks in a child health strategy in September.
This answers calls from the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign for PCT funding levels for disabled children to be clarified, amid concerns cash intended for the group would not get through to users (www.communitycare.co.uk/108570).
However, unlike councils' funding, the PCT allocations are not ring-fenced.