In its redesign of the respite service for children with disabilities, and their families, Hampshire County Council has confirmed that the current quality and level of respite care available will be maintained, after a decision was made to close its two residential respite homes: Merrydale in Winchester and Sunbeams in Aldershot.
The County Council is able to commission an equivalent residential respite service without incurring the year on year maintenance and operating costs associated with keeping the homes open. This will also mean that the County Council can invest in providing a wider choice of options – offering families greater variety and flexibility in the type of respite support available to them.
In agreeing to close the homes, Councillor Keith Mans, Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services at Hampshire County Council, said: “Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who has provided us with their views on the proposals to close the two homes. Please be assured that I have given the outcome of the public consultation on this matter, thorough consideration. However, on balance, I believe that the children and families needing respite care should receive the best possible support that we can offer, within the funding that is available. There are substantial costs associated with keeping these buildings and facilities up to standard and fit for purpose, and it is my view that this money can be put to better use.
“I am reassured that the 35 children, and their families, who will be directly affected by this decision will continue to have access to overnight residential respite care from a range of high quality, independent providers. In the new service model, they will also have the opportunity to select other types of respite care to provide them and their families with the breaks that they need, and that will suit them best, just like many other children with disabilities in Hampshire.
“While I acknowledge that some of those families will be disappointed with this decision, I am confident that they will be able to agree, with their social worker, a new and alternative package of respite care that will continue to meet their particular needs. This will include a carefully managed transition plan that will help the children and their families to adjust, as comfortably and conveniently as possible, to any changes. I will be maintaining close oversight of this and, for this reason, I have asked that a regular report is produced showing whether children currently receiving respite care at Merrydale and Sunbeams have been found suitable alternative arrangements for their care, including travel provision between their homes, their school and the care location.
“Reviewing how Children’s Services are delivered is part of the County Council’s work to maintain vital services amid ongoing and significant financial pressures. We have had to make some very difficult decisions resulting from reduced funding from central Government, and growing demand for services. This decision has been no exception.”
In 2017, of the 126 children receiving overnight respite care, 35 have been cared for at either Merrydale or Sunbeams. The remaining 91 have received, and will continue to receive, respite care from voluntary sector providers, specialist foster carers or through overnight stays at Firvale (a purpose built nine-bed home in Basingstoke, providing for a cohort of children who have very complex needs, which is owned by Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust but jointly funded and managed by the Trust and the County Council).
In addition to residential respite and specialist respite foster care, families will also be able to choose:
• Whole Family Overnight Breaks
• Care Support (in their own homes for short periods in the day or overnight)
• A range of activities either at an activity centre or through the provision of support to enjoy activities in the local community
The recommendation to close the homes was based on the following factors:
• The future availability of a new offer of overnight respite which is more in line with the feedback from service users and their families who have said they would like more choice and flexibility;
• Analysis that greater value for money per bed per night can be achieved by working with independent providers rather than in-house provision;
• Significant and ongoing maintenance costs associated with keeping Merrydale and Sunbeams to a sufficiently high standard and equipped to meet the needs of children with a wide range of disabilities.
Ahead of the decision the County Council held an eight week public consultation (7 August 2017 to 2 October 2017) on its proposals to close the two homes. Feedback from that consultation was included in the report considered by Councillor Mans, that also set out the context and detailed background information, other options considered but not viable, together with the recommendation.
Councillor Mans agreed the recommendations on 15 January 2018. It is anticipated that the homes will close on 31 May 2018.