Services continue to fail parents of children with severe learning difficulties

The lack of adequate support available to families caring for children with a severe or profound learning difficulty is pushing them to breaking point, new research reveals.

In 2003, learning difficulty charity Mencap identified the appalling situation faced by the majority of families in this position. Three years on, the charity reveals that little has changed.

Its new report, Breaking Point – families still need a break, finds that seven out of 10 families surveyed have reached, or come close to, breaking point because of a continuing lack of provision by local authorities and trusts.

Access to services is also a growing problem as services are cut and eligibility criteria tightened. As a result, one in three families have experienced a cut in their short break services in the last year, and six out of 10 families don’t get a short break that fully meets their needs.

The knock-on effect of this lack of support on carers’ health and family life is obvious. Half of the 353 families caring for children and adults with severe and profound learning difficulties surveyed in England and Northern Ireland provide care during the night, and six out of 10 who are in poor physical health attribute it to the amount of care they provide.

Condemning the lack of progress made over the past three years, Mencap is calling for an urgent improvement in the support for these families as well as an audit of current provision and increased funding to local authorities for short breaks.

Mencap chief executive Jo Williams said: “Regular short breaks in a safe, caring environment are vital and can make a huge difference to the quality of life of the whole family.

“We want local authorities to urgently address families’ needs – planning services with families themselves, deciding how to spend money on short breaks and monitoring the impact on families. Central government must provide increased funding so that families can take full advantage of short break services provided to them or purchase a break themselves.” 

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