As the Easter holidays are approaching, and the evenings are becoming lighter, many of us are looking forward to being able to take time off and enjoy some relaxation and a break from our normal routine; unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone, and for carers of disabled children the school holidays can be the most challenging time of the year.
Mencap, a charity which campaigns on behalf of people with learning disabilities, has said that many parents with disabled children are being pushed “to breaking point” because there is insufficient support, particularly during the school holidays.
Many of our clients have suffered a brain injury, or another form of life-changing injury, which can result in them having complex physical and/or mental needs. This often puts pressure on friends and family members who want to care for their loved one, but do not have the specialist knowledge to do so. Families often end up miserable and exhausted trying to cope with the demands of being a carer on top of their job and other responsibilities. For this reason, respite breaks are crucial – whether this is a few hours each day, or a longer respite holiday. Unfortunately, Mencap has found that this often isn’t possible due to insufficient assistance from local authorities.
In July 2014, Parliament commissioned an inquiry into childcare and assistance for those with disabled children. This identified that parents with disabled children had higher than average childcare costs and that care was “patchy” across the country and often inadequate. There was a review of the inquiry in 2015 and this showed that still only 21% of Local Authorities were able to provide suitable and sufficient childcare for disabled children.
As part of its ongoing research into these issues, Mencap asked 316 parents with disabled children how easy they found it to obtain childcare and to take respite breaks. 56% said that they struggled to access short breaks and around 50% said that they struggled to get childcare during the holidays.
For those without experience of looking after a disabled person, it is difficult to imagine what it is like, but it is a task that can be incredibly demanding and so regular respite breaks and consistent childcare should be a priority for Government and Local Authorities.
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said: For many parents of children with a learning disability this means nonstop care, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Having to care for their child who may have complex needs whilst juggling their work and other demands can push many families to breaking point. Having accessible and suitable childcare on offer can be a lifeline for many families. But, due to a lack of sufficient provision from local authorities and inflexible provision of the services that are available, we are seeing many families are unable to access services and are often left to struggle alone.