Research into practice

Short breaks are a service provided to disabled children and their families by local authorities and voluntary agencies. Although they can involve residential care, most are family-based short breaks. Here, a child or young person stays overnight in an approved carer’s home, or can have a sitter or befriender come and stay with them, or help them take part in out-of-home activities.

These studies, carried out in 2001-2, examined access to short breaks by African, Caribbean and South Asian families, here defined as black. The first study reviewed UK literature, observed practice in selected short-break schemes and interviewed young people, short break carers and parents.1

The second study looked at practice in one council.2 Information was obtained from voluntary and statutory agencies, and ethnic minority families. The two studies reveal a number of findings.

  • Development work and outreach. Users from ethnic minorities are more likely to use services provided by black staff. Regular monitoring of services for barriers to access is important.
  • Policies, procedures and implementation. Explicit equal opportunities and racial equality policies can mean users and staff know what to expect.
  • Translating policies into action. Having clear lines of responsibility for implementing policies and monitoring progress sets some schemes apart as being successful.
  • Communication and joined up services. Lack of accessible and easily understood information was a problem to families. A range of methods needs to be used to ensure families know about services. Communication between services needs attention. This includes all the statutory services. Disabled children’s services need to routinely address ethnicity and services for black families need to include disabled children.
  • Flexible and creative services. Home-based services are popular, but not all schemes provide this, leading to a “one size fits all” situation. Some worry that opening up access will create demand they cannot meet. Creative redistribution and use of resources and fund-raising is required, as well as continually asking children and families what they want.
  • A diverse workforce. Families interviewed were keen to see carers and workers from their own ethnic groups employed in services. They also asked that kin be considered as short break carers, a practice supported by government but rarely implemented. When trying to attract people from under-represented groups, word-of-mouth seems to work well, and targeted recruitment campaigns have met with success.
  • Follow-on work. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is funding the Shared Care Network, a national co-ordinating organisation for family-based short breaks schemes, to work with selected schemes and develop models of inclusive practice based on the research findings that will be disseminated widely. The local authority report – the second study – has received support from the director of social services, and an inter-agency working group has taken the recommendations forward into an action plan. The Barnardo’s short breaks scheme has gained funds to employ a development worker who will help implement the research findings.

1 R Flynn, Providing Better Access to Short Breaks for Black Disabled Children and their Parents, JRF Findings 582, May 2002, available from

2 R Flynn and P Patel, Low take-up of Short Break Services by Bangladeshi and Pakistani Families in “Stroudshire”, Barnardo’s, 2002, unpublished

Ronny Flynn is lecturer in children, young people and families, school of health and social welfare,The Open University.


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