There is a long way to go on improving the quality and accessibility of short breaks for disabled children in England, one year into a flagship three-year government programme.
That was the message from the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign in a study published today examining progress in four areas in improving the provision of short breaks – the central plank of the government’s Aiming High for Disabled Children programme.
£370m for councils
The Department for Children, School and Families is investing £370m in English councils to transform short breaks from 2008-11, a sum which should be supplemented by primary care trusts, who have received £340m for disabled children’s services over the same period.
The majority of the £20m in short breaks funding for councils in 2008-9 went to 21 “pathfinder” authorities, with the other 129 councils receiving £50,000 on average.
EDCM’s study of two pathfinder and two non-pathfinder sites, based on interviews with parents, found the majority of families in pathfinder areas were happy with the level of short breaks they were receiving.
Lack of confidence
In non-pathfinder areas, the report found that services were sometimes withdrawn from children, creating a lack of confidence in the system, while good-quality provision was often over-subscribed.
The report said there was a “major concern” that children with the most complex needs were not receiving appropriate services, including because of a lack of continuity of care and insufficient co-ordination between providers.
Parents in both pathfinder and non-pathfinder areas said information on services was still “inconsistent”, and there was widespread concern about how families who were not well engaged with services could access information.
In non-pathfinder areas, there was a “strong feeling” that assessments were inconsistent and provision depended on where you lived and available funding, rather than need. Waiting times in non-pathfinder areas ranged from three to 18 months between assessment and receiving services.
EDCM called for improved leadership from children’s trusts in improving short breaks provision and urged councils to develop local commissioning guidance, outlining best practice in services.
It also called for agencies to ensure good-quality information on short breaks was available from a range of sources, including children’s centres and hospitals, and said councils must provide information to families on the purpose, timescales and likely outcomes of assessments.
The report also called for councils to develop a strategy to engage hard to reach groups of parents in consulting on the future of short breaks.
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