Respite care services

Alison O’Sullivan | ADCS President | Director for Children and Young People, Kirklees Council

Last week I spent some time in one of our respite units for children with disabilities in Kirklees, in my role as Director for Children and Young People Services. It was clear from talking with the young people that their stay gives them the opportunity to experience new things and socialise with others as well as giving their parents a much needed break from the demands of caring.

The logistics for this kind of service are very complicated and joining up the individual needs of each young person, and their family, with the schedule of availability is an ever changing picture.

Whenever there is a short notice cancellation the staff will contact people they know who might benefit from an extra period of respite, rather than waste a much needed opportunity. By maintaining this close and flexible relationship with families they are able to not only ensure that all available spaces are used, but are also able to better meet their needs. I was impressed that the staff knew the current circumstances of the children and families well enough to do this.

Understanding and meeting the needs of these children with complex disabilities is also a demanding business. Within the small group of three that I spent time with was a young man with severe and complex disabilities, an extremely bright and articulate young woman with visual impairment and another young woman with learning disabilities and autism. Even the particular requirement of food takes a great deal of management and the cook keeps detailed information about not only the needs of each young person but also their personal preferences.

The team continually update their knowledge and training for particular disabilities and share their learning with each other. This, coupled with the key worker system, helps them to build meaningful relationships with the young people and understand their individual needs. The service is also participating in a radical review of how we meet the needs of people of all ages with disabilities. This is part of our redesign of early intervention and prevention activity across the whole council.

The basic premise of the new approach will be to maximise independence and resilience for individuals, their families and communities. As part of this we are proposing to bring together the management and oversight of all parts of disability services for all age groups.

The in-depth knowledge of staff and managers at the unit I visited is closely informing the thinking about how we emphasise independence and self-reliance in our work with children, in order to maximise the ability of adults with disabilities to live independently and be less dependent upon external support. And, yes, this is also about saving money.

I know that the wisdom and experience of these staff and those like them up and down the country, is vital to us finding the right way of doing the best for children and enabling them to grow up to be fulfilled adults.

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