Council urged to look at '˜long-term picture' amid proposals to cut Short Breaks activities by almost half

A SINGLE mother of two autistic children has told of the '˜grossly under-estimated' effect council activities cuts could have on families.

Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:43 am
Ros Pawling and her children, Simeone, 12, and Bethany, 10, pictured in Gosport. Picture by Chris Moorhouse

Ros Pawling, 42, from Gosport, has spoken out against Hampshire County Council’s (HCC) proposals to shave £1m from its Short Breaks programme.

With £2.4m to spend each year, the scheme part-funds activities and respite days for parents and carers of children with disabilities across the region.

But as HCC looks to save a massive £140m annually, Short Breaks’ output could soon be almost halved.

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Ms Pawling has enjoyed a host of activities alongside her 12-year-old son Simeone and 10-year-old daughter Bethany, thanks to the initiative’s backing.

Dubbing it ‘pivotal’ in understanding the behaviour of her children – since she discovered her son had autism, when he was six – she said: ‘Without sounding over the top, turning to Short Breaks was a life-changing moment. It led to me taking a course with my son and it gave us the first real time we were able to communicate properly.

‘It was the first time I understood from his perspective what his difficulties were.

‘This moment is crucial for so many parents and I fear the effects on families from funding cuts could be grossly under-estimated.’

Outlined in a consultation open now, the Short Breaks cuts would stop activity funding for over 18s, discard swimming as a Short Breaks activity and only fund activities which allow parents and carers to leave their child.

In an online Hampshire Parent Carer Network survey, it was found more than 80 per cent of its members strongly disagreed with each of these three proposals.

Ms Pawling was one of them. She said: ‘My children and I have enjoyed swimming and lots of other activities as a family through Short Breaks – many we would not have had the means to try before because of expense.

‘And while I realise cuts need to be made, what is proposed would be a big issue for lots of families. They would be excluded. These are short-term savings and the council is not looking at the long-term picture.’

Open to all Hampshire residents, HCC’s consultation will close on June 3 and its findings will be published and presented to the executive lead for Children’s Services, councillor Keith Mans.

He said: ‘It is crucial that children and young people, and their families and carers, who could be affected by potential changes tell us what they think.’

Gail Bedding, CEO of Hampshire Parent Carer Network added: ‘As parent carers, we know how important it is for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities to be able to take up interests and activities that are enjoyable and fulfilling, and how important it is for families to have some time to recharge their batteries.

‘I urge everyone who lives in Hampshire to take 5 minutes and let Hampshire County Council have your views.’

To take part in the consultation, visit the Hampshire County Council website by pasting into your browser before midnight on Sunday, June 3.