Two councils explain how they used government money to improve short breaks for families. Emma Parsons reports
From April, local authorities are expected to transform their short breaks service for disabled children in line with government guidance. Those willing to do so are eligible for a share of £270m of government funding. The aim is for legislation to put these services on a statutory footing from April 2011.
The initiative is a result of the Aiming High for Disabled Children review that found short breaks were seen as the highest priority service for families with disabled children. Primary care trusts are also being provided with £340m up to 2011 for short breaks and other services for disabled children and young people.
Local authorities will need to set their own eligibility criteria for the services, ensuring specific groups of children are no longer disadvantaged. These include children and young people with autistic spectrum disorder, children who have complex health needs, technology dependent children requiring specialist care and children who have severe physical impairments who require moving and handling.
Here we look at how two of the 21 authorities that received funding last year to improve their short breaks services went about doing it.
Catherine Hall and her 16-year-old son Neil, who has severe autism and learning disabilities, have already seen a difference in the services available to them since Derbyshire piloted the scheme. They have received extra days out, for instance in the February half term, with extra staff to help with things like mealtimes, so Catherine could eat her own lunch and chat with other parents.
This flexibility is a key part of the services provided by authorities pioneering short breaks. Mary Wilton, senior district manager, children’s services, at Derbyshire Council, says: “We’ve been providing short breaks for disabled children for a while but we consulted with parents and families and they wanted more flexible and local support.”
Support could include help to go out on a day trip with all the family as well as residential trips away from their family.
Each child that fits the criteria is now eligible for 100 hours a year of flexible outreach support. The council has awarded six contracts to providers with the aim that each family will be given a choice of three services: “It could be a day a week in every school holiday, or three hours a fortnight and more in the holidays,” says Wilton.
“[The funding] has increased our capacity. We have been able to give extra money to voluntary organisations to provide bowling trips, circus skills courses, horse riding, enabling people to have choice.
“It means kids get to spend time with their friends, the family can spend time with their siblings, have fun, helping kids to make choices that will help them in later life. Otherwise children continue to lead isolated lives and the family is under pressure.”
In Gloucestershire, the council provides the support the families ask for rather than offering traditional services. This means families have the services that suit them and use community facilities in their own neighbourhoods.
Alison Cathles, commissioning project manager, Aiming High for Disabled Children, at the council, says: “Before this programme we had a traditional focus on specialist services for short breaks, including residential short breaks in children’s homes. We also had outreach teams, people who could accompany the young person to an activity.”
When the opportunity to be a piloting authority arose the council had just completed a review of its service. Cathles says: “Parents were saying there was not enough [provision], it was not flexible enough, at the right times, or in the right places, and was much too difficult to get hold of. This meant a lot of families just didn’t pursue it. The young people told us they wanted to do activities with people closer to their own age.”
The council introduced a more user-controlled form of assessment for the level and type of support needed. “The common assessment framework approach is more positive about what you can do and about what the family’s strengths are,” says Cathles. It used the government money to set up the community lead professional team: “We’ve found that you have to get into families to find out what they need – it may be just one unbroken night’s sleep a week or time to get their shopping done,” says Cathles.
The team is focused on the outcomes wanted by the families because “it seems to lead to less not more” services.
The council is also addressing other things that prevent families with a child with severe disabilities going out by themselves. “One of the things is toileting and changing facilities, so we’re working with the district councils to use some of the capital to make sure there are the right facilities,” says Cathles. The aim is to have at least one facility, completely equipped with hoists, in every district. “We’re looking at all the things that might stop families getting out and about, as well as actual services.”