Innovative short breaks scheme for parent carers

We all need quality ‘short breaks’ – but for many parents of disabled children they are a distant dream.  Fit for purpose ‘breaks’ from heavy caring commitments depend on several considerations coming together, including: availability, suitability and accessibility.  The support needs to be tailored to fit the carer’s needs and the needs of the disabled child for whom they care; it needs to be ‘flexible’; it has to be ‘stress free’ in the sense of not requiring a military planning exercise to set up each break; and it needs to be free.  In deciding what form the support should take, the starting point must be a discussion with the parent carer in which it is accepted that she (or he) is best placed to decide what is appropriate.

This may seem utopian and unachievable – but this simply is not the case.  Look no further that the ‘Discovering you’ initiative developed by the Parent & Carer Alliance with support from the Barnwood Trust.  As Lucy Fullard, CEO of the Alliance explains:

Discovering you is about giving disabled young people a voice and a choice. It’s about recognising and celebrating their different interests, their passions, and their own uniqueness. This project is designed and planned by people who are living the challenges that disability can bring, but who are open-minded and positive about rising to these and making positive, practical, and achievable solutions. Too often short breaks have been too restrictive – in the activities that are offered, in the time of day/day of the week, in their location and duration, and in environments that can be overwhelming for many. Discovering you is about having options for the same life experiences as their peers, with provision tailored to the individual’s needs. 

A video clip concerning the scheme can be accessed by clicking here.

For more information, contact the Parent and Carer Alliance on


A note about the Law

The Children Act 1989 places a duty on local authorities to support ‘individuals who provide care’ for disabled children ‘to continue to do so, or to do so more effectively, by giving them breaks from caring.[1]  This statutory duty has been fleshed out by regulations that oblige local authorities, when ‘performing’ this duty to:[2]

(a) have regard to the needs of those carers who would be unable to continue to provide care unless breaks from caring were given to them; and

(b) have regard to the needs of those carers who would be able to provide care for their disabled child more effectively if breaks from caring were given to them to allow them to —

    (i) undertake education, training or any regular leisure activity,

    (ii) meet the needs of other children in the family more effectively, or

    (iii) carry out day to day tasks which they must perform in order to run their household.


What this makes clear is that short breaks are specifically for the benefit of carers: some local authorities seem to believe that short breaks are only for the benefit of the disabled child – and this is simply wrong.  Of course, the break must also be appropriate for the disabled child’s needs.

For statutory guidance on the local authority ‘short breaks’ duty, click here.

The Children Act 1989, section 17 also places a duty on local authorities to provide a range of supports for parents of disabled children, including a duty to provide support for other reasons – not least to enable them to remain in (or return to) paid employment.  The duty to assess parent carers (in section 17ZD of the 1989 Act) requires assessors to have regard to the carers well-being which includes (among much else) their participation in work.[3]  A 2016 the Local Government Ombudsman [4] held that a failure to address this need amounted to maladministration.

For an extended analysis of local authority duties to parent carers see chapter 12 (page 100) of Carers and their Rights which can be accessed by clicking here.

[1] Children Act 1989 para 6 Schedule 2.
[2] The Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011, regulation 3.
[3] By virtue of Children Act 1989 section 17ZD (10) and Care Act 2014 section 1(2)(e).
[4] Local Government Ombudsman complaint against Kent County Council No. 14 015 230 7 June 2016.