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Budget cuts are causing families to miss out on essential short breaks, writes Richard Kramer

For most of us, taking a holiday or short break is an essential part of our year, it gives us the chance to get away from the stresses and strains of everyday life and recharge our batteries. But have you ever stopped to think what it’s like for people who are unable to take a regular break, or indeed a break at all? Cuts to local authority budgets have meant that many councils have had to significantly reduce expenditure on short breaks, resulting in fewer families with disabled children being able to access the short breaks services they are entitled to.

The benefits of short breaks for disabled people are well documented. They provide opportunities to experience different social situations, learn new skills, grow in confidence and become more independent. It is also recognised that the supported breaks provide a vital opportunity of respite for parents and carers – a time when the individual can concentrate on their own health and wellbeing, and spend time with other members of the family. 

Independent research, conducted by the University of Chester for Sense, shows that both the children and their families, benefit from short breaks, with 83 percent of carers feeling better able to cope following a break, and 100 percent stating the short break holiday was the most significant respite they get from caring.

Downgrading services

Unfortunately, parents often report that they have struggled to find short break providers who were able to cater for children and young people with complex needs and they therefore find it difficult to access suitable respite support.

Cuts to local authority budgets may create a further downward pressure on the rate that local authorities are willing to pay for vital short break services. This may mean that providers who currently cater for children and young people with complex needs, may no longer be able to provide the same quality of service; for example, they may be forced to become less personalised and offer a smaller support ratio, or may find that it is economically unviable to continue to deliver these contracts altogether.  

If the cuts to local authority budgets mean that services for children with complex needs become more generic, this will have a negative impact on the safety and suitability of services and the quality of the outcomes achieved. Families may decide not to access the short break support they desperately need if they feel they cannot entrust the care of their child to the short breaks service provider. In my experience, families with children and young people who have complex medical and communication needs can be reluctant to allow their children to attend a short break unless they have absolute confidence that the provider will be able to meet these needs – and to keep their child happy, healthy and safe.  

Using personal budgets

Short breaks are legally required to be provided as a service for families with disabled children under a number of laws. Families who have a personal budget can go some way to meeting the challenges by directly approaching providers to ask for short breaks provision which is designed around the specific needs of their child.  

Families also have the option of pooling their budgets with other likeminded families in order to design and purchase a short break provision of their own which better meets their needs. This approach could really benefit children and young people with more complex or individual needs as families are not constrained according to the types of short breaks their local authority has decided to offer.

Ultimately however, local authorities need to recognise that providing quality short breaks for children and young people with complex needs is an essential preventative service to improve wellbeing for disabled children and families and not a crisis management model of care. For families, the most important thing is the sustainability and reliability of these services; they should not be subjected to a postcode lottery of provision.

Later this year, Sense will be conducting research into short breaks, finding out more about how they benefit families and looking at what can be done to break down the barriers some families face in accessing high-quality short breaks services. This research will be used to make a series of recommendations to the Government, so the charity can work with them and others to improve short breaks provision for disabled children and their families.

Andaleeb’s story


2016 saw the completion an 18 month programme of supported holidays for children and young people with disabilities in Birmingham. The series of short breaks, developed by Sense in partnership with Birmingham City Council, took place in a variety of locations and were timed to coincide with school holidays. During the course of the programme each young person became more independent, developed new friendships and enjoyed trying a range of new activities. These successes were measured against outcomes agreed with the young people and their families, giving them specific goals for their personal development.

19 year old Andaleeb is a happy, confident and inquisitive young woman; she lives in Birmingham with her family and attends a specialist arts college. Andaleeb has a severe visual impairment and profound hearing loss, she communicates through gesture, facial expressions, vocalisations and hands-on tactile communication. She uses a wheelchair, but loves to get out of her chair to move and dance.  

Last year, Andaleeb went on three shorts breaks to Gloucestershire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. On each holiday, she tried new activities such as woodland walks and campfire sing-a-longs, musical sessions and a film workshop where she made her own animation. She particularly loved messy play and couldn't stop giggling when playing the water games.

In feedback, Andaleeb gave with the help of her family, she said: “The short breaks made me feel independent because I spent time away from home… My feelings and moods were recognised and responded to, allowing me to do things which I like. I strummed a guitar, raced a boy in the rain and made a movie.”


Further information


Richard Kramer is Deputy CEO of Sense, a national charity supporting people who are deafblind, have sensory impairments or complex needs to live more independent lives. The charity provides a range of short breaks for children, young people and adults:

www.sense.org.uk/short-breaks

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