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Transcript of BBC interview with the Children's Minister on the Vincent family's request for respite care

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Transcript of BBC interview with Sarah Teather about the Vincent family's request for more support for their disabled daughter.

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Transcript of interview with Children’s Minister Sarah Teather on the BBC discussing the case of the Vincent family and their request for more support for their disabled daughter.

Jane Hill, presenter: Let’s talk now to the Children’s Minister, Sarah Teather, who’s just joined us from Westminster. Good morning to you.

Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families: Good morning.

JH: It is a desperate case on an individual basis. Is it right that anyone in the UK in 2010 has so little help that they feel this is all they can do - they have to put their six-, seven-year-old child into permanent care?

ST: Well, look, I think you’re right, it is a devastating case, really very distressing to read what she’s said, but unfortunately what makes it even more distressing is that all too often we hear cases of families who really struggle to cope, who feel the system has failed them, they’re not getting the help that they need, they’ve had to battle at every stage, and that’s exactly why we are producing a green paper which is a consultative paper on what we can do to make things better for families such as Riven Vincent, it’s… Riven Vincent’s family; it really isn’t acceptable that families can get to that stage.

The other thing, of course, is that yesterday the House of Commons passed some regulations - it’s still got to go through the House of Lords - but we passed some regulations to put a duty on local authorities to provide a range of short breaks and to consult with families to make sure they’re providing the kind of help that families need that’s really tailored around their need, and to be much more transparent about what they’re going to do so that families know whether or not they can get that extra help.

JH: But it’s clearly not happening in this case. This lady…

ST: Unfortunately, we…

JH: …is getting six-hours of help a week, and clearly that’s not enough and she has other children to think about as well. Can this really be the only case like this in the UK?

ST: I fear that you’re probably right, that it probably isn’t the only case like it in the UK, and clearly she’s not getting the support that she needs or that her family needs in order to cope, and that’s why we’re trying to look at the system as a whole. I should also say we… because we know it’s such a priority, and families tell us it’s such a priority, we’ve put extra money into the system to make sure that local authorities do have more money to try and provide respite care for families. But we know there’s a lot, lot more to do: it’s also about trying to get the health service to work much more closely together with local authorities to make sure that social care and health and education all join up so that families get the help they need when they need it, rather than being passed from one service to another like pass-the-parcel; that’s what makes it so frustrating for families and that’s exactly why we are doing this green paper. We’ve…

JH: Right. OK, sorry to interrupt you, but you are using the word “frustrating” and here we are talking about a case like this in January 2011 - before all the cutbacks that we’re all talking about actually kick in. What on earth are families like this going to be faced with three, four, five years from now when local authorities up and down the country are having to scale back from what they’re even providing today?

ST: Well, as I’ve said, we’ve actually put more money - despite the fact that we have this incredibly difficult financial situation and we have had to make cutbacks in many areas - we’ve actually put more money into respite care so that local authorities have more money to spend on families such as the Vincent family, and we’ve passed… we’re passing these regulations to make sure there is a duty on local authorities to provide a range of short breaks that are appropriate to families’ needs. So we know this is a priority. It’s not cost-effective for a family to get to the point where they have to give their child up to go into care; that… you know, if we’re talking about money that’s exactly why local authorities should be prioritising this. It doesn’t make any sense for them, if they’re trying to save money, to get a family to this kind of stage.

JH: Right, but the money for care issues is not ring-fenced, is it? Maybe that’s part of the problem.

ST: Well, this Government’s trying to move away from ring-fencing because we don’t think it makes sense, and in fact if you look at some families’ needs… so you might, for example, have a family with an older child where what’s being provided in the youth service might be perfect for the kind of short break, just for a few hours or an afternoon, for a particular family with a disabled child. Now, if you ring-fence everything and put it into discrete pots it stops local authorities from being able to join services up and to provide what’s really necessary for families. The Government’s been very clear with local authorities that this is a priority; that’s why we’ve put extra money in it. Despite the fact that we’ve had to make cutbacks elsewhere, that’s exactly why we’re passing these regulations making sure that it’s a duty. It’s why…

JH: So is it…

ST: …we’re doing this consultative paper, the green paper, within a matter of months now; it’s a priority for the Government. It should be a priority for local authorities because it doesn’t make financial sense not to focus on it…

JH: Is it entirely the fault, then, of that local authority? Is that local authority somehow mismanaging things and that is why this lady is in this particular position?

ST: Well, look, I know that the local MP has been very involved with this and I know that he’s going to get in touch with the local authority. Obviously I haven’t seen the detail of this particular case so I don’t want to comment on all of that, but I will say that it’s not cost-effective in the long run for a local authority to put a family in a position where they have to give their child up to go into care; you know, they… we’ve made this a priority and I know that local authorities feel that this is very important as well.

JH: Alright. We’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you for now, Sarah Teather, the Children’s Minister. Thank you.

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Published 20 January 2011