Closures to St Albans respite services will ‘leave a lot of people in crisis’

Jackie Wilks, Andrew Wilks and Sharon Shepheard are campaigning against the closure of respite care

Jackie Wilks, Andrew Wilks and Sharon Shepheard are campaigning against the closure of respite care services in Hertfordshire. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Parents of adults with learning disabilities are launching a campaign against the closure of respite services in Herts.

A second consultation process is under way at Herts county council to close 'short break' centres for adults with disabilities - Hixberry Lane in St Albans, Isabel Court in Hoddesdon and Tewin Road in Hemel Hempstead.

The county council claims the existing short break services are under-used, and that closure could save the council up to £900,000 a year, however parents are arguing that their children will not find suitable provision elsewhere.

Jackie Wilks, whose 26-year-old daughter Nicole attends respite services at Hixberry Lane, said: "They want to draw all provision into the middle and make people travel.

"They need to think about what they need to do to provide for their clientele. There will be very different needs within that population and they will need different services.

"Someone who is non-verbal and autistic might need a very calm environment, but our kids have learning disabilities and they want to go out and are practising for living independently."

According to Jackie and her fellow parents, Hixberry Lane is one of the county's most popular respite services, but parents do not necessarily know they can access it.

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Sharon Shepheard, whose daughter Katie is also 26, says she waited three years to get Katie into Hixberry Lane, while Jackie did not know the service was available until it was recommended to her by a social worker.

Consultation meetings were held across Herts to discuss respite services, but the Hixberry Lane meeting was left until last even though it was among those earmarked for closure.

Sharon said: "There were parents in tears in the meeting I went to. They will have a lot of people in crisis."

Jackie's husband Andrew added: "Parents will hand their kids back to the council sooner than they would have done otherwise."

Nicole and Katie may be made to go to St Michael's House in Welwyn Garden City, which is built for people with more complex needs, while Hixberry Lane is close to Earthworks, which offers horticultural training for people with learning disabilities.

"Nicole needs to go to respite to learn how to live independently, but also she can be very challenging and we need a break." Andrew said. "Otherwise it's very hard to be the saintly, patient person that one should be."

"She meets the same teams of staff in the same environment. She's got people there that she's getting to know and like.

"Building friendships when you have learning difficulties is really hard."

The parents hope to set up a network for other people in the same situation, so that they can learn from each other's experiences. Jackie, who is a trustee for Carers in Hertfordshire, said: "They're lighting the fuse under the decline of the service.

"At the meeting the last slide said they're aiming for a personalised, tailored service to meet users' needs, but they didn't define what that looks like.

"How does closing these small units but keeping open the large provision of St Michael's meet the strategic aims of personalised and tailored approach to respite?"

The group has received support from St Albans district councillor Roma Mills, who is carers policy and engagement manager at Carers in Hertfordshire.

Cllr Mills said: "I quite understand that the council has got to look at all its services, but saying they've got to close one of the most popular services in the county doesn't make sense.

"We need services that reflect what people want. People clearly want Hixberry Lane because they're going there - so any decisions should take that into account.

"I think they should go back to the drawing board and sit down with families that use the services to ask them what they want."

The second consultation into respite services opened on Monday, November 25, and people can respond up until Tuesday, January 7.

County Cllr Richard Roberts, executive member for adult health and care, said: "While it may be inconvenient to go through the consultation process again it really shows that in a sensitive area we really need to be listening to what our users and our carers say to us."

To respond to the consultation go to