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Respite Care

Volume 469: debated on Monday 17 December 2007

Our plan is radically to transform the provision of short breaks for disabled children and their families over the next few years. We are setting aside £280 million of revenue funding for short breaks between now and 2011. Last week, under the children’s plan, we announced a further £90 million in capital to provide additional equipment, adaptations and buildings to support short break provision.

I know the passion that my right hon. Friend brings to this matter and I wholeheartedly welcome what he has said, but may I bring to his attention the work of the Family Holiday Association, which takes hundreds of families every year on short breaks to seaside and coastal towns? I suggest that now is the time to consider the 2.5 million children in families who cannot even afford a day trip, and to consider whether some of the measures could be extended to include the FHA and co-operation with other Departments.

I know that my hon. Friend brings a passion for Blackpool to the Chamber. The local authority in Blackpool—a destination for short breaks and day trips—has been working very hard to improve its provision for disabled children and their families. That is exactly what we want from local authorities, and that is the sort of leadership that we are looking for. In the first year of our funding—more than £300 million over three years—we will seek in pilots to support innovative approaches, such as those that Blackpool is taking, to provide the support and respite opportunities that disabled children and their families so badly need.

With respect, the Secretary of State slightly ducked the question asked by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden). The money has to be spent; charities such as the Family Holiday Association do brilliant work and they are already there. Will his Department work with organisations such as the FHA, which do brilliant work to help families who are experiencing social exclusion, on spending some of the money to make sure that those families get the short breaks that they need?

Of course we will, and we will encourage local authorities across the country to make sure that, in using the money, they work closely with the voluntary sector to ensure that families get the support they need. Last week, I also announced an extension of the work of the family fund to 16 and 17-year-olds, with £8 million of extra spending. That will enable those young people to get support, often from the voluntary sector and organisations such as the one that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Whether it is a day trip, one day off a week, or more extensive, longer breaks, it is important that we provide disabled children and their families with the tailored support they need. In many parts of the country, the voluntary sector is taking a lead in providing that, and we must make sure that it is properly supported, including with funding, so that it can carry on that important work.

Following on from that answer, the Secretary of State will be aware that there are many good examples of short breaks for families with children with disability, but there are also instances in which parents do not feel reassured that the individuals who will be looking after their children have the necessary training. Will he look into the training of those who will be looking after children with disability and ensure that there is a variety of settings, so that the family can be reassured and the child can be looked after in an appropriate placement?

My hon. Friend is quite right. Under her leadership, last year’s consultation with disabled families, which took place before the conclusion of our review, highlighted the fact that, particularly for families with a child with multiple disabilities, often the problem is not the availability of care and respite breaks, but the ability of the respite care setting to meet the needs of the child. Sometimes the issue is capital needs, which is why the extra £90 million will help us to provide the kind of hoists and the support needed for particular children. However, the issue is also the quality and training of staff. It is vital that parents have confidence that the respite care will genuinely give them a break. They can have that break only if they are confident that the staff can do the job for them while they are away. That is why training will be an important part of our work for the next three years.