Written by: Cally Worden
The parents of children with special needs have one of the toughest roles of all. Any parenting is tiring, but some children need additional care and support every day, often on a 24/7 basis and the demands this places on Mum and Dad can be immense. Here are some tips on getting that much deserved respite care for you and your kids.
Asking for Help
It can be terribly difficult to ask for help – as a parent you may feel that you should be able to cope, that it should be you who is always there to meet the needs of your child. It’s an admirable position to adopt, but one which can lead to debilitating fatigue and depression, affecting family life and relationships at all levels. You don’t have to cope alone. Everyone needs a break sometimes, and that’s what Respite Care is all about.
A Child in Need
Most children with special needs can be identified under the 1989 Children’s Act as ‘Children in Need’. If this applies to your child, then you may be entitled to request an assessment by Social Services that will identify what, if any, support services may be available to you.
Getting in Contact with the Right People
The first port of call for seeking Respite Care is Social Services. You may contact them directly, or be referred by your GP, paediatrician, or perhaps your Child Development Centre. Before initial contact with Social Services, it is important that you are able to express your concerns about the care your child needs, and why Respite Care may be appropriate for you. Examples of this could include:
- Your child regularly wakes in the night needing prolonged attention, resulting in deep fatigue and affecting family life
- You require help with the personal care of your child – washing, bathing, feeding
- Your commitment to your child severely limits your available time for play with him, and you would like help with finding some free time to do this
- Your home is not geared-up for the necessary accessibility required to move your child around
- You are experiencing depression that is affecting your ability to cope.
Many people are afraid of contacting Social Services for fear of losing control over what happens within their family. In fact, the staff approach and services offered are specifically designed to help in a wide range of individual circumstances and it is never the deliberate intention of Social Services to interfere.
Following your initial contact, Social Services will either visit you in person or send you a form to complete so they can assess your needs and eligibility for the services they have to offer. It will generally include lots of questions about your child, the daily care you provide, your health, and the wider family living in the home who are affected by your child’s condition. If you worry that you may forget things, try to keep a diary or log before you meet with Social Services, or complete your form. The more information you can provide, the better.
What Types of Respite Care are Provided?
If Respite Care is offered to you by Social Services, it may take a number of different forms depending on your specific circumstances. Typical support includes:
- Short Break Care – where your child can spend time in a respite care centre or foster home for short periods of time, or overnight from time to time
- Domiciliary Service – where someone visits you in your home at defined intervals to assist with certain tasks necessary for the care of your child
- Family Link (also called Link Care) – where your child can spend time in the home of a nominated family, who will have undergone the necessary police checks for security
- Direct Payments – where you employ a person directly to help you care for your child in the home for periods of time, and this individual is paid by Social Services
If your home needs accessibility modifications you may be visited by an Occupational Therapist who will assess your requirements, and you may be eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant to help with any costs involved in adapting your home.
If Respite Care is Refused – What Next?
Even if Social Services are unable to help, they will be able to put you in contact with local voluntary groups who may be able to assist. Across the country there are many such organisations who offer free respite services designed to help families in need.