Cameron offers sympathy to disabled girl's family

James Tapsfield,Neil Lancefield,Pa
Thursday 20 January 2011 15:32 GMT

David Cameron today insisted he had "every sympathy" with the parents of a severely disabled girl who say their daughter may have to go into care after he reneged on a pre-election pledge.

The Prime Minister said he would be looking into the case of Celyn Vincent "very closely", but denied the coalition's austerity measures were preventing the family getting more help.

The six-year-old has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy and requires round-the-clock care. But her parents receive just six hours respite a week. Ms Vincent criticised Mr Cameron today and said the family was "crumbling".

Mr Cameron, whose son Ivan suffered from cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy and died in 2009 aged six, told a press conference in Downing Street: "I have every sympathy with the incredible difficulty that families have with bringing up disabled children, particularly when, as in the case of Riven's child, they are quadriplegic and have to have a huge amount of help around the clock, 24 hours a day.

"I have experience of this myself, and I know how tough and hard it can be, and how so many families can get to the end of their tether and just not know how they are going to go on caring for someone they absolutely love and feel a great joy from, as well as a huge amount of challenge in their lives.

"Obviously, I'm going to look into this case very closely and have already started to do that."

Mr Cameron said he understood South Gloucestershire Council had been in touch with the family since the story emerged today to see if more could be done to help keep Celyn - the Welsh equivalent of Holly - at home.

"I hope this is possible," he added. "As Prime Minister, one of the things I am very keen to do is help families in this position and that is why, in a time of austerity and difficulty, we have put hundreds of millions of pounds more into respite care and into helping families who are looking after disabled children.

"I don't believe there is a relationship between the cuts that are inevitably taking place nationally in some public services and this individual case.

"South Gloucestershire Council have been very, very clear about that.

"They are looking at this case on the basis of need."

Mr Cameron visited the family at their home in Bristol last April, after which they believed he would do more to help carers if he became prime minister.

But yesterday, in a desperate plea posted on the parenting website Mumsnet, Ms Vincent announced that she had asked social services to take Celyn into care.

"We only get six hours' respite a week. They have refused a link family. They have refused extra respite. I can't cope," Ms Vincent posted.

It provoked hundreds of messages of support.

In a statement today, the mother criticised Mr Cameron for failing to improve the plight of carers.

She said: "No one government is to blame. But I had hoped that, after David Cameron came to visit me earlier this year following our exchange on Mumsnet, he would have done more to protect families like ours.

"The money the Government has allocated for short breaks and respite care - £800 million over four years - is not enough, and, worse still, it's not going to be ring-fenced. So there's nothing to stop cash-strapped local authorities from using the money elsewhere."

Ms Vincent explained the conditions that led to her desperate cry for help: "Caring for my daughter is relentless. She needs someone 24 hours a day.

"She must be tube-fed, is doubly incontinent, cannot walk, talk, sit up, or use her arms. She has to be lifted using a hoist from chair to wheelchair, between bed and bath.

"She doesn't grow up. I sleep in a bed next to Celyn every night, beside a monitor that checks her breathing. I've barely had an unbroken night since she was born and I am exhausted."

Ms Vincent added that she was so tired through sleeplessness that she was unable to cook or give her three other children the attention they need.

She ended the statement by saying: "I have no wish to put my daughter in a home. We want to look after her. All I am asking for is a little more support.

"Without this we simply cannot cope and nor can families up and down the country just like ours.

"We are crumbling."

Mr Cameron said the situation would not be better if funding was ringfenced.

"I do not believe that in every case we should ringfence every bit of money we give to councils," the premier insisted.

He added: "I know there will be many families who look after disabled children who feel this as powerfully as I felt it as the dad of a disabled child.

"There are times when you feel close to packing it all in because you cannot cope any more with what you are being asked to do.

"You know that if your child goes into care it will cost the taxpayer and the state a fortune to look after your precious child. And you know with just a little bit more you could stop that from happening.

"I know that is what councils themselves have to think about and I am sure South Gloucestershire Council will be doing exactly that."

A South Gloucestershire Council spokesman said: "We have been supporting Mrs Vincent and her family since shortly after Celyn was born, ensuring they receive the care they need from ourselves and the NHS.

"This package of care is reviewed regularly and has increased according to need over the last six years. There have been no reductions in the care provided to Celyn and her family.

"Needs were last reviewed in November 2010, however, Mrs Vincent contacted the council yesterday to ask for further help. A meeting has been arranged to discuss her requirements.

"The family receives a wide range of services and direct funding from the council and the NHS. These services include a full-time specialist school placement; specialist equipment; individual support for Celyn and funding for additional help around the home; a home nursing service; respite service during the school holidays and overnight."

The spokesman added: "South Gloucestershire Council understands the difficulties facing parents of disabled children, particularly those with complex needs such as Celyn's ...

"We recognise that there are times when difficulties can appear overwhelming and we hope that we can resolve the present difficulties in the best interest of the family."

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