By Marty & Sas Taylor
On the same day that Councillor Les Lawrence offered reassurances to Charles House parents, Birmingham City Council officials began the circulation of a document which throws further doubt onto the future of the respite home for disabled children.
Councillor Lawrence (Conservative), Northfield councillor and cabinet member for Children, Young People and Families (CYPF) met with worried parents on Friday (9th December) and spoke to them about their fears that Charles House may close as part of budget cuts.
While he was unable to assure them that the home would stay open, he listened to their concerns and said that they should “feel positive”, suggesting a positive outcome to their campaign.
However, while Cllr Lawrence was seeking to reassure parents about the future of their cherished service, parents were unaware that senior council officials were putting the finishing touches to a document which clearly states that one option being considered would lead to the closure of some residential respite homes.
Parent Julie Butcher, who chaired the meeting with Cllr Lawrence, spoke to us afterwards and expressed that, while they have been told to “think positive”, there is still uncertainty and that they will be continuing their campaign.
A 2,684 strong petition was handed in to council last week and on Saturday 10th December parents and supporters leafleted on Kings Norton Green and visited Kings Norton Labour councillor Steve Bedser at his surgery. She told us that Cllr Lawrence will be informing them of a final decision on 10th January 2012.
‘A better Christmas’
We spoke to Cllr Lawrence after the meeting and it was apparent he was trying to reassure the parents. He told us that: “I was able to, shall we say, enable them to have a better Christmas than they thought they might have been able to have.”
One of the main concerns of parents, aside from the closure of Charles House, had been that the council was going to try and offer their children respite care with foster carers rather than residentially. Many expressed how they felt this was inappropriate for their children when they met with CYPF’s strategic director Eleanor Brazil last month but Mrs Brazil was insistent that foster carers could cope with their children, many of who suffer from numerous learning disabilities and have complex needs.
Cllr Lawrence recognised the importance of residential respite care for some children with complex needs and said: “There’s no way that youngsters who are receiving respite should be subject to foster caring.
“The whole nature of respite is to enable the youngsters to come and have a break from their home and equally for their parents to have a break from the young person. So, both benefit … it enhances relationships and enables home environments to be of a much safer and secure kind and actually stops children from being taken in to care.”
Charles House has been identified by council officials as being under-used and parents have voiced that it is very difficult to get a referral for respite care and that they believe there are many more within the city who should be offered the service. Cllr Lawrence said: “…we have officers looking at how we increase the occupancy of Charles House.”
When pushed as to whether he thought Charles House should and would stay open, Cllr Lawrence suggested it should be maintained: “Respite care being provided here has been recognised by Ofsted, because they’ve had their third ‘Outstanding’. I think wherever respite care is provided is worthy of retention.”
Full interview with Les Lawrence:
New budget proposal document casts further doubt on future
However, later that day a council document began to circulate which throws further doubt on the future of Charles House. The document outlines further details about proposed savings within Children, Young People and Families as a whole. The subject of short breaks for disabled children is addressed directly.
The report, by the head of the CYPF directorate Eleanor Brazil, states that, under the proposals, development of short break services would be continued but at a slower pace than at present.
Parts of the document will not reassure Charles House staff, parents, service users and supporters: “One option is to no longer resource and invest in residential homes used for respite which are currently under-used and secure short breaks and family support that better meets the needs of families. This would result in some residential homes closing.” As council officials have previously stated that Charles House is under-utilised, this is going to be of concern to all involved in the campaign.
The document recognises the issue parents raised that many experience great difficulty in getting referred for respite provision but, at the same time, it states that: “Access to service is crucial at a time of increasing need/demand and unstable funding and so we are tightening eligibility criteria…”
Karl Phillips’ s 12 year old son Owen suffers from severe autism, ADHD, severe learning disability and behavioural problems and receives support from Charles House. He has been instrumental in organising the campaign to Save Charles House. We asked him for a reaction to the document. He said: “Yet again Birmingham City Council shows its true colours after smiling to our faces and as soon as our backs turned plunging the knife right between the shoulder blades. It was only a few short days ago Cllr Les Lawrence met with parents of Severely Disabled children who use Charles House Respite Care Home, he said we should be hopeful about its future…”
Karl added: “Only a few weeks ago he told me that disabled respite provision was not being threatened… But now they talk about “changing eligibility criteria” as if it not hard enough getting any assistance from Social Care in Birmingham and getting the right provision able to meet your disabled child’s needs is downright impossible.
“So to be blunt what they really mean is we want to close specialist residential respite homes with years of experience & outstanding track records that may cost a little bit more but deliver outstanding positive outcomes for the most complex vulnerable disabled children and families.” Karl added.
Karl had a lot more to say after reading the document and you can read his full, frank views here.
Still time to contribute your views
Many may feel that this document outlining details of the budget proposals has been issued at a very late stage of the consultation process which began in mid-October and ends on January 8th 2012, with little time for people to submit their reactions at a very busy time of year. CYPF are encouraging people to take part in the consultation process and you can find full details of how to do so here.
Section of the document referring specifically to Short breaks for disabled children
We have included savings of £415k in relation to short breaks for disabled children. These savings have been possible as a result of a ‘windfall’ in that the funding included in the budget plan for the Children’s Equipment Store 6(£300K) will be met from a capital grant received for short breaks. The balance of this will be achieved by slowing the pace of service developments. There will be no impact on the level of investment in service and service development will be maintained but at a slower rate. Access to service is crucial at a time of increasing need/demand and unstable funding and so we are tightening eligibility criteria and looking at making better use of contracts and in-house provision. Consultation with parents is telling us that they have experienced considerable difficulty in accessing short breaks provision. We will look to maximise the resources that we have. One option is to no longer resource and invest in residential homes used for respite which are currently under-used and secure short breaks and family support that better meets the needs of families. This would result in some residential homes closing. We are looking at the impact of changes to eligibility criteria as this may result in some people experiencing a reduction in service. It is a priority to improve
our social work service for disabled children. We anticipate that this will result in more need being identified, so our plans need to ensure that we are able to meet the needs of children identified through delivering an improved social work service for disabled children.