Issue date: 18 December 2002

New research into the allocation of short-term breaks for children with disabilities in Swindon confirms that priority is, in fact, being given to those who are most in need. A report just published by the University of the West of England’s Health and Social Care Faculty investigated the basis for allocating resources available for these breaks, which give respite both to children and their normal carers. The study found that 66% of the children receiving breaks had medical as well as learning disabilities. This meant that short-term carers needed to have additional skills - such as the ability to give regular medication or feed clients via a naso-gastric tube.

The study compared the case histories of 88 children, who were divided in three categories. The largest group, consisting of 59 children, was receiving regular weekend breaks. Ten children had been identified as needing breaks but were waiting for suitable carers to become available. Nineteen children had been assessed as not needing or wanting breaks involving overnight care.

“Decisions made regarding short-term breaks are not easy,” said Valerie Watson, who led the project. “Overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that those receiving breaks away have additional stress factors, not experienced by children and families in the other two categories. These include the approach of adolescence; having siblings with disabilities or behavioural problems; being cared for by grandparents or by single parents; or the severity of their health or learning difficulties.”

Short-term breaks usually take the form of one weekend per month in the home of foster-carers, or for children in need of constant medical attention, in a residential unit run jointly by Social Services and the Health Service. The researchers found that the group assessed as not requiring these breaks were usually in receipt of other services such as an ‘out and about’ scheme arranging outings to local parks or to attend Brownies or Cubs.

“New carers are always needed and are thoroughly vetted and trained,” said Valerie. “Some of them have been providing this vital service for many years – and those retiring are hard to replace.”

The report recommends that the selection process for the allocation of short breaks, while resulting in a fair spread of resources, could be made more transparent. It supported calls for further and more flexible provision to meet the needs of different families.


Editor’s notes

1. The report, entitled Evaluation of Short Term Breaks for Children with Disabilities, is due to be published during the week beginning 16 December 2002. It was commissioned by the Children in Need Strategy Group, Swindon, which is the third highest provider of respite care in the UK.

2. Those wishing to become short-term foster-carers or to volunteer for the ‘out and about’ scheme should contact Graham Senior, Family Placement Team, Swindon Housing and Social Services, 01793 465700

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