Parents and carers of disabled children are calling on North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) to reconsider budget cuts which they say will push families to breaking point.
More than 500 people have signed a petition calling on NYCC to reverse its decision to cut £880,000 from the budget that provides help to disabled children and their families.
Campaign spokesman John Furlong said the planned cuts follow savings of £500,000 already implemented by the council over the last few years and could push families to crisis point.
He said: “The short breaks - also known as respite - are a vital service and a cost effective way to prevent families from reaching crisis point, a situation which would require expensive help from the council.
“While we can see that the council has tried to minimise the impact of proposed cuts on disabled children, we don’t believe they should be implemented on this vulnerable group and question if this cost saving measure has been properly thought through.”
Starbeck mum-of-three, Alison Robinson used to be entitled to four hours a fortnight of respite care for her six-year-old son Riddick who is autistic, but changes mean the family are no longer receiving that help.
She said: “We had been expecting an increase in the respite care, then we were told we no longer qualified.
“It has a huge impact on us, even though it is just a short time. We get a break, it is very demanding looking after him, we really need it.”
A carer would come to the house and look after Riddick on Sunday, giving Alison and her husband Alan the chance to go to church at St Andrew’s, and for lunch together or spend time with their five-year-old son.
“We don’t get to go to church together anymore, it is just one or the other. It was nice to spend some time with Brennick and for him to have a break too. We do very little together as a family because it is difficult.”
The council are consulting on the changes, and say they will focus on protecting the eligibility for services and reducing democracy.
The draft proposals do not include changes to the council’s criteria for eligibility so it would continue to help around 450 families of disabled children across the county.
However Mr Furlong said that the council’s eligibility criteria was already too high.
He said: “The council already sets its eligibility criteria at a very high level.
“For example families with children with ADHD, Asperger’s or high functioning autism are not always eligible for services from the disabled children’s team, but these conditions don’t necessarily mean children and their carers need less help.”
A spokesperson for NYCC said: “The consultation on the council’s proposed strategy to provide more flexible and targeted support for the social care needs of disabled children and young people and their families comes to an end on March 11.
“The council’s aspirations on behalf of disabled children and young people and their families remain high even though budgets are being reduced.
“The county council remains one of the top spenders in the country on support for disabled children and their families. The strategy seeks to protect what is most valued, whilst doing some things differently. It emphasises more personalised choice and is less bureaucratic.
“Our final report and recommendations will take into account all submissions to the consultation including any petition, as well as scrutiny from the authority’s own members. The final report and recommendations will go before the county council’s executive for a final decision in May.”
“The Council already sets its eligibility criteria at a very high level, only providing services for the most severely disabled children and their families and yet it is seeking to reduce its service still further. This ignores the extremely difficult circumstances that many families find themselves in, with little or no help from the Council because they do not meet the eligibility criteria. .
almost £900k from its 2015-2018 budget for disabled children and their families.
The ‘Save North Yorkshire Disabled Children’s Service Campaign Group’ is seeking to prevent wide-ranging cuts to the short breaks service which will result in the potential closure of two overnight respite centres, one third of families with the most complex needs receiving less contact from social workers, new families having access to fewer services – with discretionary short breaks facing a 50 per cent reduction.
Campaign spokesman John Furlong says the campaign is gathering momentum with a petition signed by over 500 people – and claims the planned cuts follow savings of £500k already implemented by the Council over the past three years.
“The short breaks - also known as respite - are a vital service and a cost effective way to prevent families from reaching crisis point – a situation which would require expensive help from the Council.
“While we can see that the Council has tried to minimise the impact of proposed cuts on disabled children, we don’t believe they should be implemented on this vulnerable group and question if this cost saving measure has been properly thought through,” said Mr Furlong.
“The Council already sets its eligibility criteria at a very high level, only providing services for the most severely disabled children and their families and yet it is seeking to reduce its service still further. This ignores the extremely difficult circumstances that many families find themselves in, with little or no help from the Council because they do not meet the eligibility criteria. For example families with children with ADHD, Aspergers or high functioning autism are not eligible for services from the disabled children’s team, but these conditions don’t necessarily mean children and their carers need less help.
From 2008 – 2010 the Council was a Pathfinder for short breaks under the Aiming high for disabled children’ initiative, which saw the Council significantly increase the number of families receiving help. Yet, while the Coalition Government has continued funding for short breaks via £800 million of early intervention grants to Councils (2011-2015) this money was not ring-fenced and funding on disabled children in North Yorkshire has fallen back.
Campaigners claim over 3300 children in North Yorkshire are classed as high needs by the Government, requiring more than 12 hours a week of 1:1 support at school. Only 460 children (14%) currently receive help from the Council’s Disabled Children’s Service compared to 607 families in 2010.
Adds Mr Furlong: “A further 380 children (12%) receive a discretionary grant of £500. But the cost of help for disabled children is so high that an annual grant of £500 would not buy one hour’s personal care by a personal assistant per week”.
“The Council intends to save the most money by recruiting 25 additional foster carers so it can close two of its Children’s Resource Centres. It has provided no details about its plan to move some families from Children’s Resource Centres for overnight care to foster care. It has undertaken no feasibility study. How has the Council satisfied itself that its plans are realistic and achievable? There is an acute shortage of foster carers for disabled children which means placements are more likely to breakdown. Some families would like the option of foster care, but others would not. If this key proposal turns out not to be workable, where will the axe fall?
“The Council is pulling up the drawbridge on new families. While denying it is changing the eligibility criteria – which is already set at a very high threshold – such cuts will result in the needs of families new to the service being assessed at a lower level, potentially, for example, from 8 hours help per month under the current system to 6 hours, but with the same level of need. It is not clear how the Council can meet assessed needs by reducing help while still complying with its legal duties.”
Mr Furlong concluded: “Discretionary grants are going to be cut by almost a half, so that only 200 children (6%) will qualify, taking the number of families helped back to pre-2012 levels. The Council intends to end the grants to Bewerley Park Centre for Outdoor Education and East Barnby Outdoor Education Centre that enable disabled children to access these facilities.
Helen Eaden, whose son Oliver is disabled, says he would be a much lonelier boy were it not for short breaks. Mrs Eaden commented: “He would be completely reliant on me, his dad and his elderly granny for any kind of social life or independence skills.
“The carers matched with my son helped his personal development and that early investment will pay off towards his future skills - and this is what is so short-sighted in this cut - because the Council will ultimately end up paying out more in crisis funding for our kids and these families.”
Details of the campaign can be found here https://www.change.org/p/north-yorkshire-county-council-we-are-calling-on-north-yorkshire-county-council-to-reverse-the-decision-to-cut-880-000-from-the-disabled-children-s-budget?just_created=true