Short breaks

Sometimes families who have disabled children and/or health conditions benefit from a break from their caring responsibilities. Local authorities now have duties to provide short break services and make clear how families can access these.

Taking a break from caring for your child is not an admission of failure or a way of saying you don't care. A break is an opportunity to recharge batteries, spend time with others or pursue a particular interest. Short breaks may also allow your child to have a change of scene, try different experiences, have fun and make friends.

Short breaks can include:

  • Care at home - includes sitting or care attendant schemes, which provide someone to sit with or 'mind' your child.
  • Day care away from home - includes nurseries, playgroups, out of school and weekend clubs and, during school holidays, access to playschemes.
  • Overnight short breaks - includes an overnight sitting or nursing service if your child needs it.
  • Residential breaks - includes residential homes, special units in hospitals and hospices.
  • Family link schemes - where your child stays with another family on a regular basis or occasionally.

Getting a short break

Speak to your local authority about getting short breaks services. The main route involves undergoing an assessment of your child and family's needs by social services (but see below for information about universal short breaks).

To see what short breaks may be available, you can try contacting your local Family Information Service or use SENDirect to search for short breaks in your area.

Families in Scotland can search for services at Shared Care Scotland, the national third sector organisation providing information on short breaks.  

Universal short breaks

Some short break schemes may be described as 'universal', which means they are available to all children and you don't need an assessment to access them. Eligibility criteria for universal short breaks must be set fairly. Speak to your local authority to see if they offer universal short breaks.

How we're improving short breaks services

In England we're supporting parent carer forums that are working with their local authority, commissioners and providers to improve short breaks provision in the local area. This involves providing forums with case studies and resources to support their work.

Find out more about how we're improving short breaks services.

Related information