SCIE Research briefing 5: Short breaks (respite care) for children with learning disabilities

Published April 2004

Updated April 2005

Introduction - What is the issue?

Short breaks are intended to have positive benefits for both children and carers: children have the opportunity to have enjoyable experiences and socialise with others whilst carers and siblings have the opportunity to relax, do other tasks and spend time with family and friends. Short break services, of which there are over 400 in the UK (not Scotland) include: sitting services, befriending services, youth clubs, play schemes, the use of outreach/sessional workers to stay with the child or take them out and overnight stays with carers or in care homes or hospital. Many service providers aim to provide a range of short break services, of differing lengths reflecting the ages of the children and range of disability. Services must take into account the individual and unique nature of each child and be planned in conjunction with children and their families. It is important that the provision and use of short breaks is considered as an integral part of the substantial care provided by families.

What are the implications?

An increase in funding and continuity of funding is needed to provide the variety of services required. To do this, service providers need to obtain accurate information on the numbers of children with complex health needs to assist in planning: this should mean that the substantial minority of families who do not use short break services at all can be identified. At a local level, services need to be developed and information about them disseminated to the families most likely to benefit. In particular, services need to be targeted to children from minority ethnic groups, low income households or large families to address current access inequalities and increased provision of school holiday breaks. More trained carers would help to reduce waiting lists and enabling them to have a paid and professional standing might allow quality issues to be addressed. Key worker support and guidance needs to reach as many as want it to enable individual short break services and families to be matched correctly.

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