Children with Disabilities Short Breaks Team
Cheshire East Council and the Cheshire East Parents Carers Forum wanted to write to you to provide information on some of the developments that have recently taken place within the local authority and to answer some of the questions that you may have concerning this. With that in mind we would like to take the opportunity to apologise for any for any concern that uncertainty about the developments has caused parents and carers and hope this information will help.
We would like to introduce a new team within Cheshire East, the ‘Children with Disabilities Short Breaks Team’. The team has been developed to improve services for children and young people with disabilities and their families who access short breaks and to ensure that parents and carers have a direct point of contact within the local authority for enquiries and support.
The Short Breaks Team will manage all direct payment packages and work closely with short break providers (commissioned services) who offer clubs, groups and activities as part of our ‘short break local offer’ across Cheshire East.
The team consists of a Team Manager, Cat Linde and four Family Support Workers, Rachel Barker, Lisa Eyres, Rafiah Zubair and Eric Hasleden. We are going to provide more information about the individual experiences of the team members within the next Parent Carers Forum Newsletter, however we are really pleased that all of the members of the team have come from a background where they have worked with or have personal experiences of children with disabilities.
The team is based within Macclesfield Town Hall; however they will be working across the whole of Cheshire East. We are really excited to be working with you all on the development of the new team.
Along with Short Break Direct Payments, from the 1st April the Short Breaks Team will also manage Early Help Individual Payments (EHIPS). Over the past 18 months, with the support of the Parent Carers Forum, Cheshire East consulted around whether parent carers wanted to continue with EHIPs, this consultation received a resounding yes and a decision was made to continue to deliver this as part of our ‘short breaks local offer’.
Between now and the 1st April the Cheshire Centre for Independent Living (CCIL) will continue to manage the EHIP’s process. We are very happy to confirm that we have already provided CCIL with the total fund to ensure that there are no further delays to you receiving your payments and we really want to apologise to you if you have had payment problems over the past month.
How EHIPs were to be delivered was not part of the short breaks consultation and the decision to bring EHIPs into the remit of the Short Breaks Team was a local authority based decision as the contract with the Cheshire Centre for Independent Living was coming to an end. We hope to reassure you that we believe that the new team will improve the service that you receive and I can also confirm that there are absolutely no savings attached to this change. We are confident that the development of the new team demonstrates the ongoing commitment in Cheshire East to improve services for disabled children and their families.
It is our understanding that a letter was sent by CCIL asking for your consent to share your details with the local authority. This was actioned as without parents giving CCIL consent to share their details with the local authority, it would mean that Cheshire East would not know who to make payments to once EHIP’s moves into the new Short Breaks Team. We understand that the letter sent by CCIL was interpreted by some parents as having a threatening tone, in that if parents and carers did not give consent then their payments would stop. Clearly this should not have been written as a threat, as all we want to achieve is a transfer of EHIP’s between CCIL and Cheshire East with as little impact on children, young people and their families as possible and we would like to apologise for tone of the letter. We will make sure that we feed back to CCIL that regrettably some families have been distressed by the wording of the letter.
We can understand that some parents and carers feel that they have experienced changes to what they could spend their EHIP’s on. We would like to explain that we regret that there has been confusion as some previous EHIP’s were paid out in error using the adult criteria, which is not a specific short break criterion. We are confident that by bringing the EHIP’s management into the Short Breaks Team we will avoid future confusion.
The national statutory guidance requires local authorities to provide short breaks that give parent carers a break from their caring responsibilities. If for example a parent uses their EHIP to pay for a holiday in which they accompany their child, this does not constitute a short break, as the parent is there caring for the child. If however the parent uses the EHIP to pay for a carer to accompany them on the holiday, who will take responsibility in whole or in part for caring for the child or young person, then this does constitute a short break. The same might apply to buying a Merlin card for a carer to take the child out so a parent can have a break. The Short Breaks Team will be able to give families advice on how best they can use their EHIP’s
In addition some parent carers have asked us to clarify whether or not they can stay at a short break event with their child. This issue is about choice for parents and carers. You should not be made to stay by our commissioned providers as by doing so you are not being given a break from you caring responsibilities. If however you are given the choice to stay, for example to attend a parent coffee morning being run by the same provider and you decide for yourself that you would like to stay, that is fine. Ultimately you must feel as parent carers that you have that ability to make a decision for yourself about whether you would like to stay and not. And not have the choice taken out of your hands
The statutory guidance that all local authorities have to work too is entitled ‘short breaks for carers of disabled children’ which we have included as a link below. EHIPs constitutes part of Cheshire East’s short break ‘local offer’, this is the short breaks that are available to children, young people and their families without having to undergo an assessment of need, either through the National Assessment Framework for Children in Need and their Families or the Common Assessment Framework.
The Children Act 1989 (“the 1989 Act”) states that local authorities have a duty to provide, as part of the range of services they provide for families, breaks from caring for carers of disabled children to support them to continue to care for their children at home and to allow them to do so more effectively. Recent case law and new legislation has also had an effect on the services that local authorities offer and how they deliver them.
Local authorities must do the following:
- Ensure that parents are engaged in the design of local short breaks services;
- not apply any eligibility criteria mechanistically without consideration of a particular family’s needs
- give families the choice to access short breaks services using a direct payment
- “state in their short breaks service statement the range of short breaks services available, the criteria by which eligibility for services will be assessed, and how the range of services is designed to meet the needs of families with disabled children in their area; “
- Good practice is that a ”local offer” is considered in order to provide families with access to some short breaks services without any assessment.
If you are already receiving EHIPS, over the coming weeks and months you will be contacted by a member of the Short Breaks Team who will help identify all those things that EHIPs can be used for. There will always be things that need to be agreed on a case by case basis, as our aim is to ensure that whatever is being purchased does provide the parent carer with a break from their caring responsibility.
Please email us at Shortbreaksteam@cheshireeast.gov.uk , if you would like to be contacted sooner for advice on what you can spend your EHIPS on or are interested in applying.
The Short Breaks Team will also be able to help with finding alternative funding streams and charities, so if there is something we don’t agree you can spend your EHIPs on, we can help identify alternative ways to fund and access the support that you may require
All of the new short break providers (groups, clubs and activities) are part of Cheshire East’s short break local offer along with other organisations offering short break support. The new Short Breaks Team is working on the development of a newsletter and written details of all the short breaks that can be accessed across the local area. Attached to this letter is a timetable of all the short break providers that we have directly commissioned (Paid) to provide you and your children with support
We have also attached a link to our short break web pages for reference. However, we fully understand that some families may require additional support in identifying the most appropriate short break for them and their child. This is also a task that the new short breaks team will be very happy to help with.
Having looked at the questions that we developed through the quick quiz we can see that no explanation was given around the previous short break contracts coming to an end. In hindsight it would have been beneficial for us to have done this as it might have reassured any parent carers who were concerned about the motivation for re-tendering the short breaks local offer contracts.
Cheshire East will therefore be reviewing how it carried out its short break re-commissioning so that it can learn lessons about communicating and working with parent and carers in the future. There was a representative from the Parent Carers Forum involved in the tender evaluation and contract award process but Cheshire East want to look at whether this process can be improved.
We have already established regular meetings between the Joint Chairs of the Parent Carers Forum, the Service Manager of the Children with Disabilities Service and the Team Manager for the Short Breaks Team, to ensure that the short breaks service continues to be developed in co-production with parent carers.
To ensure that moving the management of EHIPS into the Short Breaks Team goes as smoothly as possible, we would like to set up a working group involving the Parent Carer Forum, Cheshire East and CCIL.
The Short Breaks Team is also going to liaise with the Parent Carer Forum to arrange a coffee morning where you will be able to meet Cat, Rachel, Lisa, Rafiah and Eric. We would love to see as many people involved as possible so that we can all be involved in the development of this exciting new service.