This is a very specific blog for a very specific campaign.
Mencap are currently running a campaign to highlight the need for, and the immense benefits of, respite, or as it’s being re-named, short breaks. I have issue with the term ‘short breaks’ as it makes it sound like some kind of Bridget Jones-esque mini-break in a two seater car, which it isn’t, but I understand the need for a re-brand. Respite is defined as: ‘a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant’ which makes it sound like a negative. Short breaks sounds a lot more positive although, I suspect, many of us don’t have the energy for the fun-sounding nature of Ooh, a break? and just, you know, catch up on the washing and some sleep. But it is true to say it is beneficial for both parties – both the carer and the care-ee. The carer gets that much needed time for themselves, the care-ee gets to spend time with someone different, somewhere different, and who doesn’t benefit from that?
Our #breakingpoint came last Easter. I’d thought we were doing fine, me, OH, Big and Small until my brother and his family came to stay. It’s true to say that it’s not the big things that break us, it’s the little things. Mine? Well, it was steps. We all went to visit a stately home nearby which was all but inaccessible to Small in his adapted buggy. There were steps to the house and there were steps in the garden which meant the part which we could get him – and us – into was pitifully small. And as I watched my brother take Big – but not me, or the rest of my family – into the house to look around I saw the rest of my life playing out. It wasn’t the big things that I wouldn’t get to do (planes, foreign travel, museums) it was the tiny every-day things that you expect to do as a family: to get down a cobbled street, up some steps or stride up a hill… that made my world implode. I suddenly saw how restricted my life was to become. This was not, and had never, been in the plan.
I cried for the next 3 days. My husband, for the first time I think, saw how things had become. We talked for the first time about how bad life had become, how we had allowed it to affect us, and Big, and could see no way out. We wanted someone to take our problem away. That problem was Small.
When I dropped Small at nursery I burst into tears all over his lovely key worker. She made me a cup of tea and let me do crying. She called our Social Worker. Critically someone offered to take Small home that night, to just give us that break. I will be eternally grateful for this one act of kindness.
Our Social Worker came out the next day and I cried over him too as we explained that our marriage, and therefore our entire family, had hit rock bottom and if they could not help us, well, we were in trouble. To their credit they helped, and they helped swiftly. We now have respite once a fortnight. I cannot over-emphasise the difference this has made to our lives. We are now able to climb steps, walk up hills, go down those cobbled inaccessible streets whilst Small goes to the park, feeds the ducks and is – wonderfully – looked after by someone else for a few hours every other week. Life slows down, Big gets some undivided attention and the washing gets done. Sometimes I go out for a coffee with a friend. I get my hair done. None of these are big things.
I have stopped crying.
And this, surely, has to be better, more inexpensive than taking children away from their families who cannot cope? Or denying that help or intervention is needed? We love these children. We love them fiercely, but they are hard work. Every person needs a break and where usually there are friends, grandparents who can provide this for us, these children are a little more challenging, harder to accommodate. This is the gap the government, our local councils, have to fill. Because the alternatives… are unpalatable and unnecessary. Social care is always an easy target in the budgets; it affects vulnerable people who don’t have the time or the energy to fight back. I’d like to think this is not the #bigsociety Dave had in mind.