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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK


Health

Disabled wait months for support schemes

Shared care schemes offer respite to carers

Respite schemes which offer short-term breaks to carers are often underfunded and have long waiting lists, according to a report.

A third of adults and children with learning disabilities, challenging behaviour and other conditions, such as Aids, can wait up to a year for shared care services.

But this may be an under-estimate since clients whose needs are unlikely to be met often do not get referred to services in the first place.

People with severe needs are particularly likely to face long waits or not be referred because the schemes often cannot provide the equipment and adaptations needed for staff to work with them.

The report, Short-Term Break, Long-Term Benefit, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, questioned people in around half of the 400 shared care schemes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Stress

It found that staff often received little support from other professionals.

Many were working on more than 20 cases, exceeding levels recommended by the Audit Commission.

Resourcing of schemes varied widely, with many workers not being offered much training.

Some 15% of adult schemes did not carry out police checks on staff, although most carried out reviews to which clients were invited.

However, children were less likely to be offered the chance to attend reviews.

The majority of clients said they derived many benefits from the service, which is expanding due to demand.

They often became friends with support carers and developed new interests as a result of the relationship.

Learning difficulties

The majority of clients in the schemes, run mainly by social services, had learning difficulties. Over half of children and a third of adults using the schemes had challenging behaviour.

A quarter of children and 20% of adult services catered for people with HIV or Aids.

Up to 45% of schemes included a sitting service provided from the carer's home.

Up to 32% ran a befriending service. Twenty-five per cent of children's and 17% of adults' schemes provided extras such as youth services or escorts to holiday placements.

The report found that over 85% of schemes had eligibility criteria and nearly 90% of children's and 65% of adults' schemes had a waiting list.

A third of clients were waiting over a year for services.

The main problems were a shortage of support carers, a lack of managers to recruit staff and insufficient funding.

Fifty-five per cent of adult schemes charged for services and the amount has increased substantially since 1992.

Most paid for the services out of benefits.

The report's author, Beth Prewett, said problems of under-investment in shared care schemes, low status of services within local authorities, lack of training and support and caseloads needed to be addressed.

She said: "More services are being provided while the number of users waiting for services has also increased.

"The quality of the services are, however, threatened by inconsistencies in practice."

Cash for carers

The government has announced extra cash for services for carers as part of its Carers' National Strategy.

Seventy-five per cent has to go to new initiatives.

Stephen Davies, senior campaigns officer for Mencap, said the money could be used to plug needs, such as for emergency respite care.

But he added that the problem was that existing services were being cut back and the money on offer was only equivalent to 2p per person a year.

"There will have to be tight eligibility criteria," he said, "so not everyone will get the support they need.

"It is a false economy as carers with no support are socially excluded and face high levels of mental illness."



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