Short break services for special needs children in Lancashire set for an overhaul

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A wholesale review is set to be carried out of short break services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Lancashire.

It comes after more than 750 people responded to a public consultation on proposals to scrap one of the county’s respite programmes, known as Lancashire Breaktime.

Antonia Kimber, who uses the Lancashire Breaktime service and whose mother, Nikki, has been involved in a campaign to prevent it being scrapped

Antonia Kimber, who uses the Lancashire Breaktime service and whose mother, Nikki, has been involved in a campaign to prevent it being scrapped

A group of parents whose children use the service had also threatened to mount a crowd-funded legal challenge to Lancashire County Council’s plan to stop funding the scheme later this month.

But the authority has now decided instead to review all of the short break services on offer in the county after parents and carers called for more choice and flexibility.

County Councillor Phillippa Williams, member for young people, thanked the many families which had responded to the consultation.

"We recognise that the wider service families is quite traditional, not as flexible as might it be and doesn’t suit their needs.

"From the feedback we got, we thought we could co-design a better service in partnership with parents and carers - and that together we could deliver something that is fit for purpose," County Cllr Williamson said.

Breaktime will continue uninterrupted until the review is completed next year.

Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali welcomed the administration's "u-turn".

"When [we] argued in the budget meeting for dealing with this differently, we were told we were out of our minds. This service is much-needed and used and is a vital service that supports young people, parents and carers," County Cllr Ali said.

The Breaktime scheme provides group activities tailored to the needs of individual youngsters with SEND. Some of the programmes are delivered by the charitable sector, which is reimbursed by the local authority for providing them.

However, the young people attending the schemes do not need to have had a formal council assessment of their needs in order to be eligible for Breaktime services. The review which has been approved will now explore all of the programmes on offer in Lancashire, whether they require assessments or not.

Conservative council leader Geoff Driver denied that the cabinet had performed a u-turn and were instead responding to the consultation which they had promised.

"That consultation is going to result in a change to the service we provide [whereas Labour] carried on with a system which the people...clearly don’t want," he said.

The cancellation of Breaktime, which is used by more than 1,100 young people, had been expected to save just over £1m a year for Lancashire County Council and was part of the budget-setting process back in February. The delay in delivering the planned savings while the scheme’s future is decided may have to be met, in part, by use of reserves.

The redesigned broader short breaks service is expected to be implemented between April and June 2020.