Mrs R Henn-Macrae, County Manager for Disabled Children, was in attendance for this item.
Mr Ferrin declared an interest in this item as his wife is a member of a voluntary organisation which arranges breaks for children from the Demelza House Hospice.
1. Mrs Henn-Macrae introduced the report and, with Ms MacNeil and Mrs Whittle, responded to comments and questions from Members. The following points were highlighted:-
a) some parents’ groups with which Members work in their local area are not aware of the East Kent service hubs referred to in the report, but better awareness and access to this sort of hub would help them greatly. The East Kent hubs have been built but not yet launched, and publicity of them will happen when they are fully established. It was hoped that similar hubs in West Kent could be established as soon as possible, but government funding was later withdrawn, so a joined-up service will be provided in West Kent by using whatever premises are already available;
b) the underspend on the short breaks service is not due to a lack of demand but lack of provision, and children who should be able to access short breaks are unable to. The underspend is only in relation to day care, not the short breaks service as a whole, and is offset by an overspend in Direct Payments which enables families to make their own choices about short breaks. There is not a barrier to children accessing short breaks in general;
c) one Member stated that he had been given no choice of whether or not to take up a Direct Payment for his son, and suspected that other parents had had the same experience. In this way, neither the Direct Payment system or the short breaks service is working as it was intended to. Ms MacNeil and Mrs Whittle undertook to look into the points raised, and added that perhaps the Direct Payment system expects parents to understand and take on too much administration for themselves. The short breaks scheme has arranged some excellent events recently, and Mrs Whittle paid tribute to the team which organises these;
d) the issue is not of lack of quality but of lack of capacity and ability to reach all the families which could benefit from the service. Provision appears to be uneven across the county. Mrs Henn-Macrae advised that more overnight breaks were being added to increase the capacity of the scheme. She undertook to supply Members outside the meeting with a breakdown of the geographical use of the service;
e) the report had originally been requested to explain why the service had shown an underspend, but the content of the report had opened Members’ eyes to the running of the service and the value of it;
f) Members re-asserted their concern that Direct Payments must remain a voluntary option and should not become a condition of receiving a service. Mrs Henn-Macrae advised that the County Council is obliged to offer a Direct Payment as an option, but assured Members that anyone who does not wish to take it up is not compelled to; and
g) Mrs Whittle was thanked for the personal interest she has taken in developing the short breaks scheme, which is a vital support to the parents who use it.
2. RESOLVED that the information set out in the report and given in response to comments and questions be noted, with thanks.