Parent and carer support

Respite care for families with disabled children

We know how difficult it can be to care for a disabled child full time. The good news is that there is respite care available for families of disabled children; whether that is regular help for a few hours a week or a longer break. It can be difficult to know where to start trying to find respite, so we have put together a short guide for you about what types of support are available locally and nationally and how to access them. 

What is respite care and why is it important?

Respite care can be: 

  • Help for you at home during the day, evenings or weekends 
  • Support for your child to do fun activities away from home for a few hours a week
  • Overnight care, either at home or somewhere else
  • Activity breaks for your child 

Even though you may think caring for your child is just part and parcel of parenthood, caring for a disabled child is so much more demanding than caring for a non-disabled child, so you need respite just as much as any other type of unpaid carer.  The right to short breaks for families of disabled children and children in need is recognised in law by The Children’s Act 1989. The Act recognises how important short breaks are, not just to your emotional and physical wellbeing, but also to your child. 

In her article ‘The Right to Respite’, published in SEN Magazine in February 2020, Una Summerson says “Research shows that families who receive a regular break are emotionally stronger, physically healthier and experience lower rates of stress, depression and sleep deprivation. For disabled children, short breaks give them independence, with the opportunity to spend time with peers away from home. Essentially short breaks relieve the pressure on families’ day-to-day lives, helping them stay together and preventing them from reaching crisis”. 

How can you access respite services?

Help from the Local Authority

Your first port of call should be your local council. They are legally required to provide respite care services for families of disabled children as part of their Local Offer.

  • Carers Assessments

All unpaid carers are entitled to a Carers Assessment every year from their local council, which assesses what help and support you need as an individual. You may be entitled to a one-off grant to help pay towards the costs of a short break as part of your needs assessment. Carers Support Centre has more information on how to apply if you live in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. If you are in North Somerset find out more on the council’s website.

  • Direct Payments

Direct payments are money paid by your local council to help towards the costs of providing care and support for a disabled person (including disabled children). They can be used to pay for a personal assistant (PA) or agency to provide care and support for your child, giving you a break as well. 

  • Other types of respite care provided by the local council

Some families of children in need may be entitled to overnight or full day respite care, whether with a family or in a residential centre.

To access direct payments and respite care through the council you will need to get in touch with Disabled Children’s Services in the social care department and ask for a needs assessment for your child. 

For more information about direct payments and other help and support your council offers get in touch with your local council. If you live in the Bristol area, contact Bristol City Council here. If you are in South Gloucestershire, click here. More details of the support and help available through North Somerset Council can be found here.

Local respite services

There are a number of organisations and charities providing respite services, free and paid for, in the Bristol area. Below is a selection:

  • WECIL is a Bristol charity run by and for disabled people, who offer a number of short break and respite services, including a 1:1 volunteer befriending support scheme and lots of different opportunities for your child to attend groups, clubs and activity days in the evenings, at the weekends and in the school holidays.
  • North Somerset Council run the Buddy befriending scheme.
  • Khaas is a Bristol charity specifically providing help and support to disabled children in the local BAME community, including day respite and holiday play schemes.
  • Action for Children offers foster family short breaks, as well as activity weekends and days out for disabled children.

Paying for respite care

You may decide to pay for respite care. This could be a personal assistant you employ directly or through a private agency, a babysitter with experience of special needs, or overnight / day care at a day centre, residential centre or a private foster care agency. There are many different options available, and it is very important to use a reputable provider and check the service / individual you use is properly qualified.

Your local council will usually be able to put you in touch with respite carers available for work. 

Carers Trust have a directory of carers support and replacement care services in your local area here. Contact a Family has written an excellent article all about employing a Personal Assistant.

Charitable grants to help pay for respite care

There are charities who will help towards the costs of paying for respite care. You can use the charity search tool at Turn 2 Us to find charities you may be able to apply to. 

The Family Fund offers one off grants to help pay towards respite care or short breaks. The Respite Association is a national charity you can apply to for help, and locally you could apply to Bristol Charities.

Further information

Carers Support Centre covers Bristol and South Gloucestershire. As well as managing carers assessments in the local area, they have an excellent advice line service where you can speak to someone about respite care, and a wealth of information and further resources on their website.

The National Autistic Society has an excellent directory of local and national sources of help and support, including respite care providers.

Wellaware has a directory of a wide range of groups and organisations, including respite options, who help and support disabled people and their families and carers in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.