A much-criticised plan to close a short break respite unit for severely disabled children in Kidderminster has been dropped for now after an impassioned campaign by tigerish parents and their supporters.
The overnight short breaks unit in Ludlow Road will now stay open until at least next year, subject to confirmation by Worcestershire County Council’s Cabinet next week.
The council’s cost-saving proposal to close the centre sparked outrage and garnered national media coverage as a symbol of austerity cuts across local government.
The county’s Conservative Cabinet members are now almost certain to confirm the recommendations made by Andy Roberts, Cabinet Member for Children and Families.
He has taken into account the passionate pleas from families and their supporters about the importance of the unit to their wellbeing, as well as an 8,225-strong petition organised by activists from the Wyre Forest Labour group.
However, the long term future of the unit and other short breaks units across the county cannot be assured, with further reviews likely.
Today campaigner Tracey Rochelle, who has been integral to the campaign’s success, says there was initial disappointment on reading the recommendations that the centre’s future was not guaranteed long-term.
“The report is really difficult to follow and understand but having looked at it in detail I can see it for the wonderful victory it is for us. The unit would be closed by now if it wasn’t for the determination of the parents and supporters of our campaign. We are glad the council has finally listened and acted in the best interests of the children and their families.
“It feels a bit like we are the England football team – we have scraped a victory through a penalty shoot-out but we haven’t won the World Cup yet! We will enjoy this moment and then wait to see what happens next and get ready to fight on if necessary to protect the rights and services for children and young people with disabilities and their families.”
Tina Southall, whose daughter Dalcie stays at Ludlow Road four nights a month, said:
“I want to be happy and I want to think that we have made a difference but I’m also scared as I feel that we have won a battle but we still need to win the war. We’re delighted that Ludlow Road will stay open until March but that’s only nine months away – we are ready to continue fighting and we’re not going to go away.”
Her trepidation was shared by parent Amanda Danby, from Kidderminster, whose son Mason is also a regular visitor to Ludlow Road.
“We are proud that with our commitment to this we have managed to keep Ludlow Road open for another nine months…we will not take our foot off and go away!
“We have a few questions to ask at our meeting on Monday with the council ahead of the Cabinet meeting and hopefully can get a bit more clarity on the report. But on the whole it is a great outcome for all of us parents.”
Councillor Fran Oborski, who chaired a scrutiny report into the consultation process which was critical of the way families had been involved in the review, said she was concerned that the recommendations did not go far enough.
Writing on the Kidderminster Matters Facebook group, she said: “The report recognises that the financial figures originally presented were wrong. It guarantees keeping Ludlow Road open until at least the end of the current financial year – but seems to be committing Worcestershire County Council to further detailed negotiations around the future of Short Breaks Provision.
“This is OK as far as it goes but I don’t think it goes far enough.
“What is needed is for the county council to recognise that there are some children for whom the council-provided units will never be appropriate; to start referring families to Ludlow Road again (new referrals stopped last September) and to guarantee the future of this valuable unit.”
She added: “The Scrutiny Task Group will be considering the Cabinet Report in detail next week and I am sure that I will be making further comments then.”
Councillor Roberts’ chief recommendation is for Ludlow Road to continue to offer overnight respite care until at least April 2019, subject to further review of contract arrangements with providers Worcestershire Health and Care Trust.
The report fails to guarantee the future of the unit in the long term – instead, it recommends that the council must retain the freedom to put forward future proposals for change and further consultation.
Plans to increase the capacity at Bromsgrove’s Providence Road short term break facility in the coming months are also recommended.
The council’s officers are also authorised to work closely with parents, carers and other stakeholders to come up with plans to provide appropriate services for disabled young people to transition to adult services or independent living.
The report suggests the council has listened to concerns from parents about the way initial consultation with them was carried out and pledges to address those concerns.
However, it adds, somewhat ominously, that “financial savings are still required” and any future proposals for service change will be brought back to Cabinet for public discussion.
The campaign was featured on Channel 4 News and will feature in a BBC Panorama special later this month.
It also received lots of coverage in Wyrelife, Kidderminster Shuttle, BBC Hereford & Worcester and other local media.