The cruelest cuts

Mum Bev Rodham is concerned about funding cuts to Aiming High and the affect it will have on her disabled son Paul Rodham.
Mum Bev Rodham is concerned about funding cuts to Aiming High and the affect it will have on her disabled son Paul Rodham.
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SOMETIMES Bev Rodham just needs a break and like any parent with a disabled teenager will tell you, she is not alone.

But with funding for the Aiming High for Disabled Children programme, which provides short breaks for carers and their families, ending next month, she is fearing for the future.

Bev, whose 13-year-old son Paul suffers from autism, says life will become much more difficult if this vital service is taken away.

“I’ve been fortunate to benefit from a number of the Aiming High activities including, short breaks, coffee mornings and courses,” she says.

“They are extremely important to the families of disabled children and that’s not just the children themselves, but the carers who use the break as a time to rest.

“Not only that, but siblings of disabled children can have some fun – as sometimes a parent has to spend a lot of time with one child and can unintentionally neglect their other children.

“But the benefit to the disabled child is priceless, as is seeing Paul’s face light up when we take him to the zoo or to a caravan in Cumbria.”

Aiming High was established in 2007, following a series of parliamentary hearings, which assessed the services for disabled children in the UK.

In these hearings, parents told parliamentarians “the lack of short breaks was the biggest single cause of unhappiness with service provision”.

Last year, the Coalition Government announced the programme would end in March, but it would invest more than £800m in short breaks over the next four years.

However, this funding will not be ring-fenced and parents fear it will be spent elsewhere.

Bev said: “I am seriously concerned about this, as are many of the parents I meet, with cuts spread across all services, how do we know short breaks will get the investment it needs.

“Caring for a child with disabilities is a challenge, and without these breaks the challenge could become too much for some people and the alternative is full-time care.

“That would cost the Government an awful lot more than a weekend in Cumbria.”

Bev, of Kimberley Avenue, South Shore, is a member of the Aiming High Parents’ Forum, which will now become a community group following the funding cuts.

To improve the group’s opportunities to access relevant funding, the group is hoping to form a social enterprise to continue their valued work throughout the town.

“As a group we feel strong, we have signed a petition which we will send to the council and have individually appealed to our councillors to ensure the £800m is spent on short breaks.

“I just hope with all my heart the council understands our need, as we do genuinely understand the difficulties it is facing in these tough times.”

The mum-of-two says parents are also anxious about the possible closure of The Together Centre, a Sure Start children and young people facility on Whitegate Drive, Blackpool.

It offers core services, activities and information for children and families in the local community.

Bev said: “All the Sure Start centres are uncertain of the future, hopefully they will be protected and I trust the council will protect what they can.

“But again it is the unknown which scares us, and we just hope the council shares our views on what is and what is not a priority.”

David Lund, executive director for Children Adult and Family Services said a review of children’s centres was underway.

He said: “A fundamental review is under way with the aim of meeting a £500k saving, this is looking at reducing management, administration and improving co-ordination across the centres involved.

“The review will conclude in the second week of March, and will include initial recommendations to reduce costs.”

A council spokesman added: “We haven’t yet been notified of how much of the funding we will be allocated and therefore have not been able to plan how it will be spent.

“As soon as we have clarity over it we will notify the parents group.”

n A Black Tie Ball will be held at the De Vere Hotel, Herons Reach on Friday, March 18, to raise money for the Aiming High Parents Group. To book, contact Katy Simister on (01253) 477390.