‘It's hard to quantify just how important Short Breaks are to us. They are, to use an overused phrase, a lifeline.’ (Contact a Family, 2015)
SENDirect's 2016 State of the Nation research has identified a gulf in opinion between parents and professionals around the scale and appropriateness of services on offer for children and young people with SEN/disabilities. This report focuses on the provision of Short Breaks services in particular.
This report aims to highlight the issues that are facing families around Short Breaks, with a particular focus on legality and compliance. It will outline the areas of best practice using Local Authority case studies, and then offer recommendations to improve access to Short Breaks for families. The report will be used to address the 'gap' in understanding of the types of services that families really want and need for their children.
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Where does our information come from?
- We’ve analysed what families are telling us through their responses to surveys, engagement with us on social media and through blogging, and through the searches they make on the SENDirect site.
- We have gathered information from professionals and providers through surveys, focus groups and structured conversations.
- We’ve audited Local Authorities' Short Breaks statements and Local Offer webpages to make sure that Local Authorities are carrying out their legal obligations.
- We’ve analysed Local Authority responses for Freedom of Information requests to understand where families can find the Short Breaks statement and if they are respecting the law in terms of what the statement itself must contain.
What are Short Breaks?
“Short Breaks are part of a continuum of services which support children in need and their families. They include the provision of day, evening, overnight and weekend activities for the child or young person, and can take place in the child’s own home, the home of an approved carer, or in a residential or community setting” (Short Breaks: Safeguarding the Welfare of Disabled Children, Department for Education, 2010) .
Why do families need Short Breaks?
Short Breaks are a fantastic opportunity for parents to take a break from their caring duties, but they also help disabled children to become more independent and involved in their local community.
- 76% of parent carers said they have experienced stress or depression (Short Breaks in 2015: An Uncertain Future, EDCM) .
- 66% of parent carers find accessing services and products that meet their child’s needs stressful (Baseline Survey, SENDirect, 2015) .
- Short Breaks have a direct positive impact on the lives of disabled children and young people who use them, making them more confident and independent (EDCM, 2015) .
What are the barriers?
- Availability of information
- Only 60% of the Local Authorities have their Short Breaks statement on their Local Offer webpage and 11 Local Authorities do not have the statement clearly visible even on the Council website, which is a violation of the law (SENDirect Short Breaks Statement Audit, Emily Tyrrell, 2015) .
- Inaccuracy of the information available to families
- 37% of Short Breaks statements are incomplete in terms of: (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) :
- range of services provided
- how these services meet the needs of carers and families
- evidence of reviews of the statement
- evidence of consultation of families during review
- Difficulty with accessing Short Breaks
- 4 Local Authorities are acting in contrast with the law since they are refusing Short Breaks to children without a formal assessment because they do not meet the eligibility criteria: 32 children have been illegally refused in the last 12 months (SENDirect Short Breaks FOI requests, Emily Tyrrell, 2015) .
- Lack of consultation
- 78% of families consulted said that they have not been asked to feed back about Short Breaks planning (SENDirect, 2015) .
Short Breaks: the legal position
The law around Short Breaks is mostly represented by The Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulation of 2011 and partly by the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Children Act 1989.
Every Local Authority must complete a Short Breaks statement and publish it on the Council website. A statement is a document that Local Authorities have a duty to compile. It must contain useful information about Short Breaks including the range of services offered in the area, any eligibility criteria required to access these and how these services meet families’ needs. By publishing the statement on the Council website, Local Authorities are ensuring that it is accessible to families who wish to use it.
Areas of Good Practice
Through the Freedom of Information requests, we had the opportunity to identify good practice amongst Local Authorities, the majority of whom demonstrated that they are aware of both the importance of consulting with families of disabled children and the range of services offered, and the difference between those.
Accessibility of the Statement
91 Local Authorities had their Short Breaks statement clearly visible on their Local Offer, this makes accessing information about Short Breaks easy for families (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) . In particular, Bexley Council stated their statement can be found on the Council website under the Local Offer. Families also keep informed via their SEN newsletter. Furthermore, a discussion takes place with families when they first take up Short Breaks provision, and this process has been drawn up with the support of Bexley Voice Parent Carer Forum (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) .
Reasons for refusing children Short Breaks
Families cannot be refused Short Breaks without an assessment. Therefore, Local Authorities using good practice should hold figures for requests and refusals. 116 Local Authorities were able to provide detailed information around their reasons for refusing Short Breaks (Emily Tyrrell, 2015). Ealing Borough Council show particularly good practice in this regard, and was able to provide information on how many children were granted Short Breaks, and the reasoning behind refusals (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) .
‘The Children with Disabilities social work team received 272 inquiries in the 12 months to August 2015. Of these 162 went on to receive a service and 110 cases were closed. Of the 110 cases that were closed: 66 were the non-disabled siblings of a disabled child who did not require a service themselves [and] 19 were eligible for service but declined support […]’ Ealing Borough Council
The range of services available
Families have the right to access information about the range of services that are available to them. 141 Local Authorities were legally compliant in this and were able to provide detailed information on the range of services available (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) . Usually, there are three kinds of services: Universal, Specialist and Targeted. If a child is not eligible for Specialist or Targeted, he or she can be still eligible for Universal services. In particular, Redcar Borough Council was able to give a detailed response about their range of Targeted and Specialist Short Breaks (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) .
‘Targeted and Specialist Short Breaks are available following assessment by a social worker and decision from a funding panel. Children can be refused Targeted and Specialist services on the basis that these services do not meet their assessed need.’ Redcar Borough Council
Consultation with families
Local Authorities have an obligation to consult with parents around their Short Breaks statement. We found that 139 Local Authorities said that they consulted with parents (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) . In particular, Kingston Upon Thames told us that they consult with families who receive Short Breaks every 6 weeks, and 501 families were consulted in one year (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) .
Evidence that Local Authorities are delivering services as outlined in the statement
141 Local Authorities were able to provide evidence that they were delivering services as outlined in their Short Breaks statement (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) . In particular, Poole Borough Council stated that:
‘[We] see evidence of service delivery through individual Child In Need Plans and their reviews, Sessional Worker Contact Recording Forms and statistical information on the number of Short Breaks run and attendees of the holiday programme.’ (Emily Tyrrell, 2015) .
How does this impact on parents?
“Short Breaks are vital for my family. We have four children aged 12, 10, 9 and 7 years (the youngest of which has a disability). Presently we are entitled to 40 hours annual respite through the Short Breaks local offer. This equates to 8 days (from 10am - 3pm). This is the only respite we have as we do not have family support. The respite service enables our daughter to have time away from her family in order to make friends and enjoy a different environment whilst being given the care and 1:1 support she needs. She has benefitted from many experiences including a trip to the farm, swimming, sensory play sessions and many more. Whilst she is away and being cared for by qualified professionals, my husband and I are able to spend time with our other three children doing activities that are not accessible to our disabled daughter e,g, climbing, ice skating etc. If these services are cut all of our children will lose out.” Parent Carer (Contact a Family, 2015).
The Barriers Facing Families
- It can be difficult for families to find out about their rights / entitlements: Short Break statements are not always easily accessible to families. In some cases, the Short Breaks statement is incomplete, which means parent carers that live in these Local Authorities only have access to a limited amount of information about their eligibility and the application processes. We would suggest that best practice would be to include these in the local offer, as surprisingly only 91 Local Authorities have done so (Emily Tyrell, 2015) .
- It’s time consuming and stressful to find out what’s out there: 66% of respondents to the survey said it is stressful to find information on services and products that meet their child’s needs (SENDirect, 2015) . Contact a Family’s research found that many parents were unaware of their Local Offer except those who are actively engaged in their local Parent Carer Forum (EDCM, 2015) . Even if Local Authorities are not obliged to carry out formal assessments of needs to give access to a service, they must do so if they intend to refuse the children from the same service.
- It can be difficult to negotiate the process of assessment: 53% of parent carers who responded to Contact a Family’s research, and self-identify as having a disabled child, say that they have never accessed any form of Short Breaks service (EDCM, 2015) . Not only does this suggest that a large number of eligible children are missing out, but also the lack of available information means that parent carers are missing out on the support that they need the most.
What are the solutions?
- Consult with parents on what they want: Families have told us that they truly value Short Breaks and the support they provide to both their child and their family. It is important that Short Breaks should continue to be fully supported by the government, and investment to ensure that these types of services can carry on helping families is vital. Families should be more involved with the development of the services they access, and supported to negotiate effectively to access products and services that they want and need. These should be bespoke, and service users should be able to rate and review services to help them to be appropriate and successful.
- Make Short Breaks Statements easy to find: Short Breaks statements should be easy to find, and they should be published in the Local Offer. Families visit the Local Offer more than the Council website, and it is usually clearer and more accessible. The Local Offer will have information aimed specifically at families with disabled children, rather than the more general Council site. Trawling through the Council website is frustrating and time consuming for parents and carers.
- Ensure your Short Breaks Statement is legally compliant: Short Breaks statements should include information on eligibility and how assessments work.
SENDirect’s Aims for 2016:
SENDirect will continue to build its online community in 2016 to make sure that families have access to services and support they tell us they need most. With the help of parents, professionals and providers we want to improve 3 key areas:
- We will support families to be heard by analysing search data and recording reviews. You can support this as a parent by reviewing a service you have used, or letting us know if you can’t find a service you have been looking for.
- We will support providers to get the word out about their services, and to get up-to-date and accurate information about what families are looking for by encouraging families to use the SENDirect site to search for the services and products they really need. Your organisation can benefit from access to over 60,000 families searching for services and products in their area.
- We will support Local Authorities by collecting and sharing information. You can ensure it is more useful for you by encouraging local providers to register on SENDirect, and asking families to rate and review services they have used. This will allow families to have more choice and control when selecting services and products to meet their child’s needs.
This report has been complied by SENDirect's staff team. Special thanks to Emily Tyrrell for conducting the research and writing the report.
SENDirect's Baseline Survey was completed by 382 families, 141 providers and 40 professionals. We sent FOI requests to all 152 Local Authorities and we received between 109 and 132 responses., depending on the the questions we asked relating to the 3 areas of Short Breaks, Childcare Sufficiency and Personal Budgets. We audited 132 Local Authority websites to check for compliance, which included assessing eligibility criteria, assessibility of information, consultation with parent carers and evidence of reviewing information.
We also pulled the search data from the SENDirect site from April 2015 to January 2016. The searches were then cleaned to remove any obvious repetition of searches (e.g. multiple searches at the same date and time at the same location)
All quotes are from the SENDirect Baseline Survey or focus group session unless stated otherwise.
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