Agenda Item 104 Disabled Children’s Family Support and Short Breaks
Families of children with SEND in the early years often struggle to cope with all the demands on them. Our families have told us that they do not want direct payments to replace short breaks funding, as they feel this would put undue extra pressure on them to manage payments. They also fear it would change the nature of their relationship with local voluntary sector providers - making it a financial transaction rather than about their children. How is the Council going to manage these concerns and the extra pressures on families and providers if there is a full shift to direct payments?
The majority of short breaks are already commissioned via a direct payment used by parents in Wokingham so we are simply looking to extend this.
It is part of a national direction of travel to move away from council commissioned block contracts and move to a more flexible arrangement offering choice and control for service users and a more personalised approach to commissioning.
However, the Council will be open to the views of parents on their preferences for how they access the short break services that are available and there is no pressure upon parents to move to direct payments. I believe that many people will prefer to take a direct payment as they will see the benefits of more choice and more control. Any arrangements adopted by the Council will enable both the Council and service users to purchase services from providers; in the event that people would prefer not to take a direct payment.
As the report outlines, the Council will be exploring the use of pre-paid cards (already a feature within adult social care, as Julian knows) to reduce any additional burdens upon parents wishing to take a direct payment. Pre-paid cards offer a simple transaction that can be expanded to the number of people willing to look at direct payments but we will of course discuss this directly with parents and gauge all of their views.
A very quick supplementary around what you said about choice. Choice is absolutely vital, of course, and I think the big concern is if the money is given directly to families, and providers do not then have the stability of income, there is the chance that those providers may not provide the same services. So we want the parents to have more choice but it could be that if the services actually stop, because they do not have the security, parents actually end up with less choice.
I think what we have seen so far is that there are some parents who probably would be eligible but are not actually accessing our services as well, and we want more choice because a lot of services have been telling us that there are some times of the day, for example in the morning, pre-school etc, that they cannot access services, and hopefully this will bring about some parity where services actually start to meet the needs of service users a little bit better and hopefully it will start to work. But it is not a case of doing everything all at once. This will be phased over two years and hopefully it will work for both the providers and the families who are accessing the services and it will not be a shock on day one and I think it will work. We have chosen to use Involve and they are a great resource and they should make everything, the transition, work really well. So please put in your views and they will very much inform how we go forward.