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Volume 401: debated on Tuesday 18 March 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what recent assessment he has made of the quality of services available to the parent carers of children with physical and learning difficulties; and if he will make a statement; [102282](2) what support is available to the parent carers of children with physical and learning difficulties; and if he will make a statement; [102281](3) what recent discussions he has had with representatives of parent carers of children with physical and learning difficulties; and if he will make a statement. [102283]

Disabled children receive a range of care and support from the national health service and social services departments. This includes: medical and nursing support; family support, including short—term breaks and domiciliary care; advice and guidance; residential provision; self—care and independent skills training; drop—in clubs and groups; activities at family centres and transition support services.As part of the Government's £885 million "Quality Protects" programme, we set national objectives for children's social services. Through inspections monitoring and annual reviews, the Department's social services inspectorate monitors progress by individual authorities towards the achievement of these objectives. They include specific sub-objectives for disabled children, which are a priority area in the "Quality Protects" programme.Last year's "Quality Protects" management action plans (MAPS) show that local authorities are beginning to improve the services they provide to disabled children, including the provision of more family support services, such as home—based respite care and sitting services, and better planning and delivery of services jointly with health and education. There has also been an increase in the number of families being supported. In late 2001, the children in need survey found that social services were supporting 29,700 disabled children: a 2 per cent. increase on the position in 2000. The introduction of direct payments for parents with disabled children is enabling greater choice and greater control over the way services are delivered. Next year, in 2003–04, the "Quality Protects" money earmarked for disabled children will double: from £15 million to £30 million.

We are also increasing the provision of short-term breaks through the carers' grant, which was first introduced in 1999 in order to provide breaks for carers, including parents of disabled children. Last year children's social services provided 52,400 carers with short-term breaks funded by this grant: an increase of 21,400 from the previous year. The majority of those receiving a short-term break were parents of disabled children. The grant is increasing on a yearly basis. This year the grant is £85 million. Next year it will rise to £100 million, and by 2005–06 it will have risen to £185 million.

The Government are providing funding to Contact a Family, of £500,00 per annum, to run a national information centre for parents of disabled children. The free 0808 national telephone help and advice line has been widely used. In the year ending 31 March 2002, it had received nearly 9,000 calls. By the end of 2004, it is estimated that this figure will have risen to 21,000 a year.

Ministers and officials hold regular discussions with groups representing parents of disabled children about the development and implementation of policy including the implementation of the "Quality Protects" programme and the development of the children's national service framework (NSF). We have set up an external working group to develop NSF standards for disabled children. This includes two parents of disabled children and representatives from the Council for Disabled Children, Contact a Family, SCOPE, MENCAP and the Association of Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.