Why short breaks services are so important for children with disabilities

Wednesday 08 March 2023
Family photo

Short breaks services provide young people with disabilities with the fun and enriching experiences that every child deserves. They’re a vital lifeline for the wellbeing of the entire family

What is a short breaks service?

A short breaks service offers young people and children with learning disabilities and complex health needs a range of opportunities to make friends, try new things and have some fun. They also provide families of a disabled child or young person with a break from their caring responsibilities. This is sometimes also referred to as ‘respite care’.

Young people can be referred to short breaks services by their social worker. The type of support will depend on a young person’s unique needs, such as a physical disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other special educational needs. It could involve after-school tea visits at home, weekend day care, or overnight residential stays at a dedicated centre.

Short breaks offer young people exciting new experiences

Whether it’s meeting new people, seeing the latest blockbuster or exploring their passions, short breaks offer young people with disabilities experiences that many children take for granted.

Action for Children provides a range of short breaks services in locations around the country.

I like meeting my friends here. I enjoy the different things we do - one day we did bowling, then the meal out, craft night, or game activities or talent shows.

Drew , a young person who attends our Northants Shorts Breaks Service

Learning new skills

Through short breaks, young people are also supported to develop new skills. Our support workers encourage young people to set ambitious goals for themselves and work with them to make those goals a reality.

For example, a young person may want to learn self-care skills such as how to make themselves a cup of tea or brush their teeth. Or they might want to work on something they find overwhelming or challenging in daily life.

We had a young man who was on the autistic spectrum who found it too stressful to get his hair cut. We started with walking past a hair salon. Once he was okay with that, we'd start look stopping to look in the window, then sitting inside. Over the months we built it up until he was totally comfortable. Since then, getting a haircut has been something he’s able to handle .

Service manager at our Short Breaks @ West Hyde service

This support and encouragement helps young people to build resilience and confidence. They develop a greater sense of what independence looks like to them. In one review of local short breaks services, young people said it has enabled them to go out and do more with friends in the local area, which makes them happier.

As they approach the age of 18, learning new skills can also help them prepare for adult life.

Carmela and her family
From short breaks to Britain's Got Talent Read Carmela's story

Short breaks are good for the whole family

Short breaks are also important for parents and carers. Parenting is hard work and if a young person has additional or complex needs, it can be uniquely stressful and challenging – sometimes contributing to family breakdown. While young people are enjoying their short break, parents and carers can rest, recharge and spend time with any other children.

A young person’s time with us gives their other family members a break from their caring responsibilities. It gives them a chance to have some down time and go out. That could be anything from going shopping, spending some one-on-one time with their other children or just sitting on the couch!

Service manager at our Short Breaks @ West Hyde service

In this way, short breaks enable carers and families to feel better able to continue caring effectively for their disabled child. They provide support that helps the whole family to be happier and healthier.

Short breaks are a vital lifeline for disabled children and their families

According to Mencap, more than 350,000 children aged 0-17 have a learning disability in the UK. Families of disabled children on average face extra costs of £581 a month. Yet almost half of all carers provide 90 or more hours each week in care, so it’s not surprising that only two in 10 carers are in full-time employment. This can make it hard for carers of disabled children to earn enough to stay out of poverty and makes these families extremely vulnerable as the cost of living crisis deepens.

Every child deserves to get the support they need to have a safe and happy childhood. We’re committed to being there for children with disabilities and their families, no matter what. With your help, we will be.


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