Social services are 'failing families with disabled children'

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Nearly half of families with disabled children receive no support at all from outside the family and a further 30 per cent receive less than two hours help a week, claims a report released by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS).

Nearly half of families with disabled children receive no support at all from outside the family and a further 30 per cent receive less than two hours help a week, claims a report released by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS).

Four out of five families (80 per cent) said health and social services were "not properly coordinated". The report, People, Not Budgets: Valuing Disabled Children, said: "The level of support given to these families by social services is often extremely poor. The system is bureaucratic, has little sense of responsibility and is fuelled by ideological theories that have little relevance to everyday life."

More than three times as much is spent on juvenile prisoners (£36,000 a year each) as on disabled children (£11,000 a year). Of the £540m spent on disabled children, £140m is spent on "assessment and commissioning" tasks, the report said.

The situation will get worse as medical advances mean more disabled children are born and live longer, the right-of-centre think-tank said.

Its authors, Richard Smith, a businessman who set up the Martha Trust Hereford charity to promote care for severely disabled young people, and an oil company geologist, Florence Heath, recommend that families of disabled children should be given more control over their own lives. They call for the money spent on social service commissioning to be given directly to disabled families as a non-means-tested payment in addition to current benefits.

It would be paid directly to every family providing care at home and would, at current levels, be worth £115 a week. "Families living in these circumstances know what they need," the report said. "They would also usually much rather choose care services themselves than receive insufficient help from local authorities. Unfortunately, the rigidity of the current system does not give families any personal choice."

In addition, the authors recommend care assessment teams should be established as a one-stop-shop to assess disabled families and ensure disabled children receive appropriate care.

Recent government initiatives have aggravated the already poor levels of care, the report says. The Care Standards Act 2000 added an extra burden of regulation and costs on providers of care and 2,000 care homes have had to close in the past five years. The authors call for reform of the regulatory approach with the offer of financial incentives to boost the supply of care homes. Other countries provide a better care, they say. Austria has a system that provides "an excellent model on which to base reform".

The authors say their proposals would be in keeping with government policy on public sector reform by increasing choice for disabled families and giving greater freedom to suppliers of care to respond in a flexible way. The report comes as new laws come into effect requiring all business and service providers to make reasonable changes to ensure they are accessible to the 10 million people in Britain who have some form of disability.

Local charity helps boy while council offers delays

When Thomas Haskett first started trying to crawl and communicate, his parents were delighted. The three-year-old, who turns four this month, suffers from Polymicrogyria, a condition similar to cerebral palsy, and needs 24-hour care. But it was a local charity-run day centre, rather than the council, that helped the boy from Hereford.

"Without the centre, I don't know what we'd do," said his mother, Sarah Stephens. "Before we started school, the social services provided a physiotherapist who came every four weeks, and a speech therapist that only came every six months. Thomas has problems with his hips and his legs and needs more physio than he gets. He hasn't had a visit since the summer holidays."

She said that Thomas had really benefitted from the three mornings he spent at Megan Baker House, a centre for conductive education in Bromyard. "He's playing with toys now and crawling a bit," she said.

His father, Mike Haskett, added that the family had been waiting for two years for the council to build an extension on their house. He said: "They moved us from our two-bedroom place to the three-bedroom place we're in now and said they would do the extension here. But then they couldn't get planning permission."

"Now they're saying they'll put us in a newly built three-storey house and put in a lift, but it's going to be 2006 before we move. We're happy here but the extension would give us the space we need for Thomas."

Tim Walker