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Short Breaks and Respite

Despite it being widely acknowledged that short breaks are a fundamental part of any support package, thousands of families continue to be oblivious to the fact that they may be entitled to a break from caring for their disabled child.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, there is no specific right to Short Break care.  However short breaks at home or in the community must be provided to a disabled child under S:2 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 when they are necessary to meet that child’s needs.

In 2008 a new duty “The Short breaks duty “ was introduced, which although did not create a new right to Short Breaks, did introduce a new duty on local authorities “ to assist individuals who provide care for (disabled) children to continue to do so , or to do so more effectively, by giving them breaks in caring”.

Then in 2011 further specific regulations (Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011) were introduced setting out more detailed requirements imposed on Local Authorities

When the short break duty was introduced it was envisaged that short breaks would routinely become part of the support package.  The aim was to provide parents with the opportunity, to work, train or simply have some “me time” either alone or with their other children; who of course are profoundly impacted as a result of a sibling’s disability.  The regulations even refer to parents’ being provided with breaks so then can deal with every day’s tasks to enable them to run the house (imagine a child free food shop!).

The logic behind the implementation of the Short Break duty was to pre-empt a crisis rather than being provided with a break when the crisis hit.  Sadly however, for many that has not happened in practice and we encounter many families’ who have never had any form of break at all.

Many people are unaware that local authorities are obliged to provide a range and level of short breaks which must include:

A) Day time care in the home of the disabled child or elsewhere
B) Overnight care in the home or elsewhere,
C) Educational or leisure activities for disabled children outside of the home
D) Services available to assist carers in the evenings, at weekends and during school holidays.

The reality is however, no doubt due to the huge pressures on resources, parents are not properly advised or know where to look to see if they would be entitled to this support.  Research published back in 2015 by the Every Disabled Child matters campaign showed that more than half of the local authorities have cut spending on short breaks ( respite services ) for families with disabled children since 2011/12 and it is clearly evident, some 4 years down the line, that these same families continue to bare the brunt of cuts to services week in week out.

Not only do Short Breaks provide a lifeline for families and the opportunity for children and young people with disabilities to enjoy new experiences and meet new friends, it is estimated that short breaks could save the State up to £174 million annually if all eligible children received them  This saving is based on a decreased cost on long term residential care, decrease costs to health services from reduction in parents’ families’ and carers’ stress and a decrease costs to schools of educating siblings with behavioural and emotional difficulties.  Many families continue to miss out due to lack of appropriate provision in their area and yet when asked most parent carers state that short breaks are the single most important factor in helping their relationship and avoiding marital breakdown.

If you are caring for a disabled child, whether or not they have an EHC Plan, you may be entitled to this support.  Check out what support is provided in your area by reading the “Local Offer” which all local authorities are obliged to produce.  If you think you may be eligible and yet struggle to access support take advice and don’t be shy to challenge decisions. 

For further advice please call our Education Team on 01926 354704 or email

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