Harpenden respite unit faces axe in shake-up

PUBLISHED: 18:59 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 14:44 06 May 2010

A VALUED respite care unit for children in Harpenden is threatened with closure in a county council shake-up of services for disabled children. Harpenden Mencap s Stairways hostel in Douglas Road provides three respite beds for children as well as an outr

A VALUED respite care unit for children in Harpenden is threatened with closure in a county council shake-up of services for disabled children.

Harpenden Mencap's Stairways hostel in Douglas Road provides three respite beds for children as well as an outreach service to take disabled youngsters out and about.

But the county council is proposing to close the respite bed service as part of its proposals contained in the document Aiming High for Disabled Children.

It is proposing a so-called hub and spoke model with a main centre where services will be coordinated and a residential element in five hubs across Herts for short-break care and outreach activities.

Stairways would be excluded from the provision of overnight care because, according to the county council, it is not accessible to children with physical disabilities.

That is despite the fact that the county council currently already purchases places at Stairways for children with physical disabilities and a recent inspection by Ofsted was very happy with the existing set-up.

Harpenden Mencap trustee Patrick Fisher explained that parents liked Stairways for their children because it was small and homely.

Around 40 parents used the respite facilities annually and Mr Fisher said that at a recent meeting with John Harris, the county's director of children, schools and families, the parents had been "incandescent" over the proposals.

He pointed out that the outreach programme would inevitably be affected if the residential use was moved to Watford - even though the county council wanted Stairways to continue with it. With the outreach scheme funded by the residential care which has full-time staff, its removal would make it far more difficult to continue with it.

Mr Fisher went on: "If you take away the core staff, you are reduced to trying to find people to do outreach work, particularly in the holidays. The government and everyone wants to get children like this into the community and Harpenden is a very good community which is very supportive of learning-disabled children."

Mr Fisher said that Mencap had identified a site in Redbourn which might be suitable for a new purpose-built unit but while the county council had agreed to consider it, he was not very hopeful.

The consultation on Aiming High for Disabled Children has now ended and a spokesperson for children, schools and families confirmed this week that there had been 144 responses to it and two consolidated responses.


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