A DISTRAUGHT mother with a severely autistic child has warned that families will fall apart if vital respite care centres are hit by cuts.
Marie Kirk (50) is terrified she will lose her 11-year-old son Jamie if Lancashire County Council carries out cuts on the services she says provide the only lifeline for parents like her.
County Hall bosses say discussions are still in their early stages but stressed the need to modernise respite care services like Reedley Cottages in the face of dwindling public finances.
Mrs Kirk, of Windermere Avenue, is now mounting a campaign against cuts alongside other parents in a bid to protect services for vulnerable children like Jamie who need round-the-clock care.
She said: “David Cameron promised he would not cut frontline services but he has changed his tune.
“We have been told Social Services are looking at cutting respite services and direct payments.
“We are among the most vulnerable families in society. This care is our lifeline. If any of that goes I am in jeopardy of losing my son again.
“If they do cut back the services it will cost them more in the long run as many of the kids will have to be taken into care full-time.”
Philomena Lebin, of Narvik Avenue, explained the respite care was a lifeline she and her severely autistic son Daniel (10) could not live without.
“It is somewhere he gets taken after school by bus. It is staffed and the children get looked after, fed and changed. They have a bed there over night. It gives parents like me a vital chance to spend time with our other children and recharge our batteries.
“But if they close these homes we will not get a chance to recharge our batteries and not be able to live a normal life.” She said some parents would simply not be able to cope with the relentless strain and could be forced to give up their children.
“They are playing with our children’s lives. Lots of families would be pushed over the edge. They will get ill and won’t be able to cope. I just don’t know how long I can keep going. I am on my own and this is the only thing I have got to look forward to. The children enjoy it and it is a safe place for them. If they cut this lifeline me and a lot of other parents are finished.”
They are now taking the fight to Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle to try to get his support. “We want to let him see they are real children who need our support.”
Only a fraction of families get overnight care in Lancashire - families deemed “critical” by Social Services. But cuts could mean even the 179 children who use the eight respite centres could be affected.
County Coun. Susie Charles, Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, said: “I understand how important our respite care services are to those who use them. Can I emphasise we are at the beginning of a process of discussion with all who use the services.
“No decisions have been made about any particular provision but we need to modernise the services we provide.”
She said more parents were taking advantage of direct payments as an alternative to the county council’s fixed provision which she said fewer people were now using.
County Coun. Charles added: “We are reshaping our respite provision to give a better service to families. In common with every other local authority in the country, we cannot escape the fact the county council must make significant savings over the next three years, but this is not simply an exercise in saving money, it is an opportunity to modernise our respite services.”