News story

More than 160,000 disabled children now enjoy short breaks

The number of disabled children receiving short breaks more than doubled between April 2008 and March 2011, with increases in every area of the country. The findings are published today in a report by Together for Disabled Children (TDC), commissioned by the government.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The number of disabled children receiving short breaks more than doubled between April 2008 and March 2011, with increases in every area of the country. The findings are published today in a report by Together for Disabled Children (TDC), commissioned by the government.

Short breaks give disabled children and their families the chance of a normal life and opportunities that other children can take for granted such as playing with their friends, learning new hobbies or going on holiday. Short breaks also give parents a well needed rest from their caring responsibilities and a chance to recharge.

The government has now made it statutory for local authorities to provide short breaks, as of April 2011. The new regulations require local authorities to publish information to parents describing what short breaks services are on offer in their area.

The government has committed over £800 million for local authorities to invest in short breaks between April 2011 and March 2015 through the Early Intervention Grant. This compares with £270 million which was made available between 2008 and 2011.

The number of disabled children receiving short breaks rose from 57,383 in 2008-09 to 162,831 in 2010-11 - an increase of over 105,000 children. This has contributed to a decrease in social care interventions and a fall in the number of disabled children entering the looked after system.

The TDC report also analysed the success of parent forums across the country between 2008 and 2011. Over 1,700 parents of disabled children are now actively involved in planning services in their area through parent forums - over three times more than in 2008.

Children’s Minister, Sarah Teather, said:

Disabled children and their parents rely on support and free time to have a normal family life. Weekends away, overnight care and fun activities give parents a valuable break from caring and give disabled children a chance to learn a new skill or make new friends.

The success of the short breaks programme is clearly down to local authorities working in partnership with parents of disabled children, so that services are shaped by their needs. The families involved benefit and services are better value for money so other families get to enjoy more short breaks services.

Short breaks provide families with early help so they can cope better in times of stress, and are less likely to need help from social care services. That’s why it’s vital that local authorities continue to invest in short breaks and make it a priority. We have backed this up with a new duty on local authorities to provide short breaks.

We want to give parents more influence and control over local services. In our green paper on special educational needs (SEN) and disability we have set out a range of ways that parents should be involved in local decision making. Increasing parent participation means more services are being delivered that are more responsive to the needs of local disabled children.

On short breaks the report finds that:

  • Over eight million additional hours of daytime short breaks were provided to disabled children and their families - the number of daytime hours rose from 6,079,681 hours in 2008 to 14,308,283 hours by March 2011.

  • An additional 193,000 nights of care are being provided either in the child’s own home, in hospices, holiday parks or on weekend breaks. The number of nights of care rose from 587,095 nights in 2008 to 780,827 nights by March 2011.

  • Local authorities have particularly improved activities and breaks for children with severe challenging behaviour and complex health needs.

  • Providing a range of short breaks services has led to greater satisfaction from disabled children and their parents and is more cost effective than only using expensive residential care.

  • Greater parental involvement in commissioning short breaks services has led to better value for money, and therefore more services are being delivered to more children.

  • There have been particular increases in the number of voluntary and community sector organisations, particularly small local groups, delivering services.

Christine Lenehan, Council for Disabled Children (CDC), said:

Short breaks are essential for families with disabled children. Caring for a disabled child can be a full time job. This often means that parents of disabled children have little time to do day-to-day tasks such as cleaning, taking a shower and sitting down to eat a meal.

Access to regular, reliable, high quality short breaks can be life changing for families, providing time to do day-to-day activities, to rest and to build their relationships. Even more importantly, they give disabled children and young people themselves the opportunity to take part in positive activities, to build friendships and to play an active part in their communities.

CDC warmly welcomes the increase in access to short breaks, particularly for children with the most complex needs. However, this is not the end of the story. It is crucial that the Government continues to monitor local delivery of short breaks under the Early Intervention Grant.

The government today announced that Contact a Family, a charity providing advice and support for the parents of disabled children, has won the contract to strengthen parents’ involvement in local decision making across the country. Contact a Family will carry through the commitments in the SEN and disability green paper to give parents more control over the support their child and family needs, and to fund parent forums in every local area.

Parent forums have been developed in almost all local authorities to help parents have a say in the range and quality of services for disabled children. This includes, for example, the supply and delivery of equipment, therapy services, and the local SEN transport policy.

An increase in parent participation and the active involvement of parents in shaping services has resulted in:

  • Lower stress for families, helping them feel in control of their child’s wellbeing.
  • An increase in value for money services.
  • Better, more coordinated local information for families of disabled children.
  • Some parents have personally benefitted and have returned to work as a result of the confidence of being part of a group.
  • Three pilot projects in Leicester, Hull and Tower Hamlets successfully increased the number of black and ethnic minority parents by tackling barriers such as lack of information and language differences.

Srabani Sen, Chief Executive of Contact a Family, said:

We are delighted the government has committed to continue funding parent forums which have played a vital role in shaping services to meet the needs of families with disabled children over the last three years.

The results speak for themselves: more and more parents’ voices are being heard, parents feel more in control and this has led to a range of improved outcomes for children, young people and their families.

Strengthening parent participation is at the heart of Contact a Family’s work and we look forward to supporting parent carer forums to continue their excellent work.

Local parent forums share experiences, provide peer support, and get updates on national developments via the regional parent forum networks. A National Network of Parent Carer Forums (NNPCF), established in March 2010, supports local and regional forums. This has helped ensure that parents are engaged in shaping national policy, and that their voices are heard.

The NNPCF has worked closely with the government in formulating national policy. Specifically they are involved in the selection of green paper pathfinders that will test the single education, health and care plan and personal budgets.

Anna Gill and Carrie Britton, co-chairs of the NNPCF, said:

We are delighted that the government values the unique and crucial perspective that Parent Carers can bring to strategic decision making at all levels, from national commissioning and policy making through to the local allocation of scarce resources; the ongoing commitment to support the development of all Parent Carer Forums through Contact a Family will help us ensure that the voice of even more families will be heard.

Voluntary and community sector and other organisations have been invited to bid to support local areas, including their ongoing provision of short breaks.

Notes to editors:

  1. The report Towards a more ordinary life…A report on the progress of parent carer participation and the development of short breaks: 2008-1011 was compiled by Together for Disabled Children on behalf of the Department for Education.

  2. The data in the report refers to the period from April 2008 to March 2011.

  3. The number of daytime hours of short breaks increased as follows:

Type of daytime
short break
Number of hours
2007- 2008
Number of hours
2010- 2011
Family-based or individual day care 3,542,299 6,616,164 3,073,865
Group-based specialist short breaks provided during the day 1,902,856 5,224,680 3,321,824
Group-based non-specialist short breaks provided during the day 634,526 2,467,439 1,832,913
Total number of hours of daytime short breaks 6,079,681 14,308,283 8,228,602
  1. A growing number of areas are developing local offers to make it easier to measure how many hours of short breaks a child is entitled to without them or their family having to undergo a separate assessment. For example, children who attend special schools or receive higher rate disability living allowance in Enfield are entitled to a minimum of 100 hours a year - about two days a week. The government wants to see more local authorities developing local offers.

  2. Funding provided for short breaks will be delivered to local authorities through the Early Intervention Grant. The government is providing £198m/£202m/£206m/£210m for short breaks over the next four years.

  3. The Department for Education has appointed Contact a Family to help improve parent participation in all local areas in England through parent forums. There are two main elements to the parent participation programme: * Provision of support, training and advice to local parent forums; and * Coordination and quality assurance of funding applications submitted by local parent forums from all local authority areas in England to the Department. The contract will run for two years from August 2011.

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Published 26 August 2011