Short breaks provide much-needed “me time” for parents, invaluable experiences for children, and they can be rewarding for carers too
A regular break from caring is the service most requested by families of children with disabilities and SEN. A national survey commissioned by Shared Care Network suggests, though, that only thirty per cent of people know about the opportunity to become a short break carer, while this figure is around eighty per cent for fostering. However, the survey revealed that, despite this lack of awareness, many more people would provide short breaks if they knew about the options, with one in five people saying it is something they would consider doing in the future.
Short break carers support children and young people with disabilities and SEN and their families. They enable children with disabilities and SEN to have enjoyable experiences, which help them become more independent, and form friendships outside the family. Short break carers contribute to these children’s personal and social development and help reduce their social isolation. At the same time, parents and families get a regular and valued break from their caring responsibilities.
Greer, aged eleven years, has a short break with Debbie and her daughter on a regular basis. Debbie, became a short break carer after working with disabled children in a school. “Being a short break carer, I get such a feeling that I’m doing something so positive”, says Debbie. “I’ve got six children linked with me at the moment, all of whom have physical disabilities of some degree with other needs. It’s just like having an extra member of the family when they are here. The children need a home from home, they need somewhere where they can go and stay and the parents get the rest they need.
“Greer is an amazing girl. How she manages her day to day independence is really quite amazing. She is very much like my youngest daughter. She loves dancing; she loves anything girly, like make up and nail varnish. She loves playing out with other children. Anything that allows her social interaction with her peers is fantastic.”
Greer’s Dad, Scott, also gets a great deal from the experience. “When we first started having short breaks, we would just have a lie in,” he says. “But just to get a lie in and a break from the normal routine is nice. If it’s for two nights, we might go out for a meal together, go and visit some friends or get jobs done that we can’t normally do when Greer is here.
“I think that Greer going to another family has broadened her horizons and made her more independent, because she has had to make more decisions without myself and Janet around. I think it’s made her come out of herself.
“I admire any family that takes on short breaks. For the people that do, I think its rewarding because Debbie has said to us that she loves having Greer and Greer enjoys going. If we didn’t have the short break arrangement that we have, we would end up not spending time together as husband and wife, not getting that quality time just for us. So, I think if we didn’t have it, it would put some strain on our relationship.”
In 2008, the importance of short breaks received Government recognition and substantial investment at a local level. The Aiming High for Disabled Children initiative allocated £370 million over three years to local authorities in England to improve short break services.
“Short break carers really do transform the lives of families of disabled children”, says Candy Smith, Shared Care Network’s Chief Executive. “Not only do they give parents a break from caring. They give disabled children the chance to take part in activities that most non-disabled children take for granted. Being a short break carer is a very rewarding role. Short breaks are a lifeline for many families, not only helping them to cope but to thrive.”
Once short break carers are approved and linked to a particular child, their regular family support is provided by their link or social worker. Short break carers can also join the Short Break Carer Network, which provides support and information. An online forum where carers can talk to each about their short breaks is also being launched later this year.
More short break carers are urgently needed to support children with disabilities and SEN and their families on a regular basis. This can be anything from a few hours a week to working full-time as a carer providing short breaks to a number of young people with disabilities and SEN. As Jenny Grindrod, a social worker from Rochdale, explains: “A good short break carer is somebody who is flexible, who sees the child first, is professional working with parents and is quite happy to have lots of people coming in and out of their home.” If the carer has children of their own, it is important that they too are open to sharing their home with other children.
Verity Hitchings is Communications Manager at Shared Care Network:
Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 46: May/June 2010.