The importance of personalising short break provision

Action for Children case study about short break provision. Written by Clare Gent, Action for Children.

Traditionally the provision of short break services to families has involved integrating children and families, with wide ranging needs into existing services. While efforts are made to accommodate specific needs of children, the starting place has often been simply a menu of commissioned services. The aim of this new approach to commissioning was to start with the identified interests and needs of children, young people and their families, and to then seek activities and services which met this specific need. The ambition was to develop personalised and inclusive short break provision instead of service-led activities.

Stoke on Trent local authority commissioned Action for Children to work with community groups and special schools to provide personalised activities, with responsive delivery based on what children, young people and their families really want. Activities are commissioned every three months, and providers demonstrate flexibility to accommodate requests from children, young people and their families. Where it is necessary additional support is put in place to enable children and young people to be able to partake in activities. 

A brochure with details of the available activities throughout the year is produced every three months, with services available every day of the week and for 51 weeks of the year. Children and young people aged 0-18 and their families are able to access one free activity each month and are able to choose another activity which they make a financial contribution towards.

Activities are identified that meet the individual interests and needs of disabled children, young people and their families from a range of providers, including community groups, special schools and universal services. This method results in services that children and families really want and need, a more personalised approach towards individual interests and more support towards inclusive access to universal services.

An example of this is in practice is of a disabled young man who was really interested in fishing.  He was able to contact a local voluntary angling group, who in response established a group for disabled young people. As a result of this the young man enjoyed greater independence, experienced an increase in confidence, and had new opportunities to make friends. He subsequently joined the main fishing group and is now mentoring new disabled members to help them to develop similar skills and encourage them to follow their ambitions in life.

The opportunity to have a personalised approach to these types of activities has been enabled by an innovative commissioning process within the local authority. The programme is proving to be really successful and the where possible communication on what activities are set-up is identified and arranged with children and young people directly.

It is hoped that this approach will lead to greater levels of independence for children and young people, promoting opportunities to focus on aspirations and outcomes and offer support to work towards and achieve these. A longer-term ambition of the project is to develop wider partnerships with universal services, with the potential for involvement of disabled young people as volunteers and mentors and for these areas of involvement to be recognised at a celebration event.

Reflections and next steps

Action for Children is continuing to strive to ensure that communication is directly with children and young people, rather than via their parents, wherever possible. In this way they hope that their interests can be further elicited and explored.

In addition they seek to move away from a focus on 'activity' to what the young person wants as a longer-term outcome and to put in place achievable steps to achieve this.

Full integration with universal and local services is an ongoing ambition with disabled young people having the option of becoming service providers (mentors and volunteers) in addition to their role as service recipients.

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