In 2018 there was a consultation on the short breaks grant in Stockton. Lots of parents and carers fed back their views and the forum had lots of discussions with the service to develop this. After providing the evidence that children and young people wanted to be able to access mainstream services, and that parents and carers needed to be able to cover the additional cost of another carer to support them, there were positive changes made to the grant.
Our view, is that our short breaks grant in Stockton is a very good offer, it provides choice and offers a substantial amount in terms of funding. There have been hiccups along the way over the language used such as SEN plan. SEN plans use to refer to Statements of Educational Need, now they stand for Special Educational Needs Plan, the first is the equivalent of what is now an Education Health Care Plan. Communication is always a problem, especially when language changes, and this is a prime example. Neither party are at fault, because technically, both are correct terminology and they are both referring to a plan that is devised to outline support required to meet the needs of a child/young person with SEND. There was also the issue around 6 monthly funding allocation, the first lot of funding was equal to the second, however the first time for funding fell over the 6 weeks holiday and therefore the funding was disproportionate. This only lasted for one financial year.
Neither of them, were particularly difficult to get past, but this year, we were struck in early October by the news that the limit had been reached on the funds available for the short breaks grant. We had run out of money and therefore no further grants were to be awarded. We were asked to notify parents, which we did, and then we notified service providers (because it occurred to us that no one else was going to). Panic ensued with service providers and some had been offering services to families without confirming that they were in receipt of the short breaks grant and now a small percentage of families owe this provider a debt.
In response to this, SPCF immediately arranged to meet with the short breaks grant team to discuss what the next steps were. We had questions regarding the circumstances of the situation. There was an increase in money spent and numbers accessing. SPCF along with other organisations promoted the short breaks grant more than before, people accessed more money then they had previously (because they were able to do more with the money that they got) and in response to the ever growing waiting list for autism and access to services a slight modification in criteria meant some increase in the number of applications as well.
Outcomes from this meeting were:
There are no plans to change the amount of funding offered to families for the next financial year.
We made it clear that there needs to be a better notification in place to ensure that families are aware that the funding is limited and that they should not access services without ensuring that they have received confirmation that they have been successful in receiving the grant. This will be going on the application form not only in the guidance notes.
There may be changes to when you can access the fund. To ensure that people are able to access this, it may be put back into two trenches. Where you will only be able to claim for 6 months and then the further 6 months. This way, money will be split into to funds and anyone that does not access it in the first tranche will have an opportunity to do so in the second.
Ultimately, we are continuing to gain views and collecting evidence of impact and if you would like to provide your views please do so by contacting us. We know that there will ultimately be people that are not going to be happy with everything, but we urge you to consider that any decisions made are to ensure that the children and young people and their families are able to access services that meet their needs, provides them with social enrichment and a break from the caring responsibilities that parent carers have. We are trying to ensure that this grant meets the needs of as many people as possible and is fair and accessible to families.