A new report released today highlights the uncertain future for short breaks provision.

Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM), the consortium campaigning for the rights of every disabled child, has found that "the future of short breaks is a source of increasing anxiety for many families with disabled children."

"Since 2010, they have felt the impact of austerity through reduced spending by local authorities on children’s services and welfare reforms introduced by the Coalition. With widespread acknowledgement that the 2015 Spending Review will result in further reductions to local authority funding, it is unsurprising that the sustainability of short breaks has become a pressing concern for parent carers. Ensuring that these essential services meet families’ needs, must be a priority for any government committed to achieving the best possible lives for disabled children."

EDCM’s survey found that many parent carers accessed fewer short breaks than in the past due to service closure (24%), cuts in available hours (14%), and changes to eligibility criteria (11%).

The report goes on to say that "Short breaks are among the most fundamental services for supporting families with disabled children. By providing breaks from caring and positive experiences for children and young people, they allow parent carers to focus on relationships with other children, or to have time to themselves or with their partner, leading to lower levels of psychological distress, higher levels of life satisfaction and better health. As a result, fewer parent carers reach ‘breaking point’ and fewer children require access to emergency provision or enter the looked after system."

Family Fund were keen to support the development of this report and used some of the information we hold from our grant making to help EDCM develop the report. At Family Fund, we understand how great the need for short break provision is for families. Since 2011/12 we have seen a 22% rise in both applications for family breaks and grants awarded. A survey of our families who had been awarded a break found that 32% had experienced a reduction in their access to short breaks provided by their local authority, whilst 41% had never accessed statutory short breaks at all.

It seems that the families we support often use our family breaks grants to replace the loss of short breaks provided under the statutory framework. For example, one parent told us:

"My children would suffer psychological harm if they were not able to attend a club or group with similar individuals, as it helps them to know they are not alone."

Cheryl Ward, Chief Executive of the Family Fund, said "We know from the families we support just how essential the opportunity to have a short break can be in helping to ease the daily pressures that families raising disabled and seriously ill children face. Families often tell us just how important it is for their resilience, health and wellbeing, as well as simply enabling the family to spend time together. This report highlights a clear gap between what support is currently available for families and what families are telling us they need. We were pleased to support the development of this report and echo EDCM’s call for greater support to protect these vital opportunities and services for families."

With further uncertainty of the financial climate, EDCM are recommending the following:

1. The Government should secure continued funding for short breaks through the Spending Review, in order to ensure local authorities can continue to meet their duties to provide short breaks set out in the Regulations for Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children 2011.

2. The Government should require all local authorities to publish data on the levels of short break provision in their area, including the number of disabled children, how many access short breaks, and the volume of different types of short breaks being accessed.

3. The Government must clarify to local authorities, practitioners and parent carers the right of disabled children to a social care assessment, following the appeal of L & P v Warwickshire CC & Safeguarding Children Board in October 2015.

Read the report in full please click here.