Co-produced, co-designed from the beginning

Contact a Family case study about a parent carer forum working with their local authority. Written by Stuart Hall, Wiltshire Parent Carer Council.


Founded in 2008, Wiltshire Parent Carer Council is an independent forum for parent carers of children with special educational needs or disabilities aged 0-25. Wiltshire Parent Carer Council works as a strategic partner with those responsible for planning and providing service, ensuring the views, wishes and feelings of children and families are central to all decision making processes.

An area of good practice established during the Aiming High for Disabled Children programme was the provision of short breaks services for children with disabilities and their families which offered support in the right way at the right time, without the requirement of a formal assessment.

Through the endeavours of Wiltshire Parent Carer Council, its members and the local authority a culture change is becoming embedded where families, commissioners and providers actively work together in participation and coproduction. As a result of these positive relationships there is an increased understanding of the respective challenges that face families, local authorities and providers. 

Services are developed with a focus on 'what works' for children, young people and families, informed by their individual experiences. Consequently around 1,200 families are now able to access vital support through Wiltshire's Short Breaks Scheme. Wiltshire Parent Carer Council has representatives on all service review boards providing feedback on parent carer experience of services. As a result, a short breaks service which had poor feedback at the outset, has been supported to achieve a 98% customer satisfaction rate of good or better.

Many of these developments formed part of Wiltshire Council's strategic vision for the future of short breaks. This was developed at the beginning of Aiming High and was based on a series of consultation events held during 2008/09. The vision emphasizes how important short breaks are for families, and sets out how Wiltshire Council and its partner organisations, including Wiltshire Parent Carer Council intend to improve the provision of all short break services in Wiltshire.

To achieve the vision, we agreed to:

  • Work together, the local authority would work with parent carers and other local partners.
  • Fully involve parent carers and children and young people with disabilities in all aspects of short break planning and delivery. Specific attention was given to engaging with those who were not currently receiving services.
  • Develop the market by working closely with providers and potential providers to ensure that we commissioned services that are of the highest possible quality, that met the needs identified, at the most efficient cost, as identified through engagement with parent carers.
  • Regularly monitor and report on progress; this requirement was built into all tender agreements and includes the Wiltshire Parent Carer Council as an important partner in the process and relationship.

As part of the cycle of continuous improvement, feedback from families, including their views, wishes and feelings, proves to be of central importance to ongoing development of the Short Breaks Scheme. This ensures that short breaks services are of the highest quality, are focused on meeting the needs of families and that subsequently demonstrate excellent value for money. During the initial consultation for the Short Breaks Scheme, families outlined a set of priorities they viewed as being fundamental to the development and delivery of short breaks services.

Parent carers told us that:

  • They wanted clear and easy to understand eligibility criteria.
  • They wanted activities for children and young people to be positive, enjoyable, and appropriate experiences.
  • They wanted activities to be accessible, take place in a safe environment, be easy to access wherever they live across the county, and take place at times that work for the child, young person and family.
  • Be flexible and person-centred, and aim to meet the individual needs of children and young people, and their families.
  • They wanted a range of options and choice.
  •  They wanted a break from their caring responsibilities.

These priorities reflect many of the requirements for local authorities for the provision of short breaks services as set out in the Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations, including the publication of a Short Breaks Services Statement. This needs to give details of the range of services provided, any eligibility criteria for those services and how the range of services is designed to meet the needs of parent carers in their area. 

An area that has seen sustained participation result in excellent outcomes is the offer of support for settings for the development of inclusive practice. As a result of this universal services have become more accessible, families have greater confidence and children and young people with disabilities are better able to enjoy community activities with their friends.

Through ongoing participation activities, the Short Breaks Scheme remains responsive to the needs of all eligible families living in Wiltshire, examples include extending the scheme to support children and young people aged 5-18 (to their 19th birthday) and in providing families with more choice of support by widening the range of commissioned services available.

In September 2014, new legislation came into effect covering support for special educational needs and disabilities. Local authorities should publish information on the education, health and social care support available, including short break services within a local offer. These services should be made more responsive to local needs and aspirations by involving children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their families in the review and development of provision.

Wiltshire Parent Carer Council was able to utilise their excellent relationship with the local authority to complete a programme of participation and coproduction activities to shape Wiltshire Council's local offer. In addition to these areas of success that have been achieved by Wiltshire Parent Carer Council, they continue to work with the local authority to ensure that all services for children and young people with special education needs and disabilities and their families are developed within the 'culture of coproduction'.


Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Families:

"Responsive services should be easily accessible for all disabled children and their families who need them, designed around the child and family, and delivered in a coordinated and timely manner."


Susan Tanner, Head of Commissioning, Wiltshire Council said:

"Co-produced and co-designed, from the beginning. You can't look at a 98% service satisfaction rate and not go: 'Wow, that's amazing!', and the reason is because we worked together. Together we make better decisions, it is just that simple!"


Parent carer said:  

"This isn't about new services, it's about enabling our children to access and enjoy what is already out there."


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