Desperate parents spoke out today after cuts to eight respite care centres for severely disabled children were confirmed.
County council chiefs need to slash £3m off the budget for children’s respite care over the next four years, meaning at least one will close in the next 12 months.
It leaves eight homes under threat, including Maplewood House in Bamber Bridge, near Preston, which campaigners fought to save in 2006.
The others at risk are The Bungalow in Fulwood, Preston; Long Copse, Chorley; Alexandra House, Lancaster; South Avenue, Morecambe; Grimshaw Lane, Ormskirk; Hargreaves House, Oswaldtwistle; and Reedley Cottages, Burnley.
More than 150 families from across Lancashire were called to a meeting at Maplewood House this week to be told the £180m cut to the County Hall budget will impact spending on respite centres.
Among them were Derek and Sue Hamer, full-time carers to their 16-year-old son Matthew.
The family, who live in Lyndhurst Avenue, Ashton, often spend night after night with little or no sleep.
They rely on Matthew’s weekly visit to The Bungalow.
Derek, 47, said: “The Bungalow is all we have. Without it, I don’t know how we will cope. Families like ours are already on the brink, only just managing to cope. The services these respite centres provide are certainly not a luxury, they are our lifeline.”
Matthew, who attends Sir Tom Finney High School in Moor Park, is one of around 50 disabled children who stay overnight at the four-bed centre. He stays once a week and for a full weekend once every six weeks.
Mum Sue said: “The staff at the centre have helped us get him to where he is today. It’s not just our lifeline, it is his too.”
County council chiefs say the centres are currently only running at 80% occupancy, and they believe this figure will fall further when new laws, capping the number of respite care nights that children can receive to 75 a year, come into effect in April.
However, Debra Welch, chairman of the Friends of The Bungalow, claims the “vast majority” of families in Lancashire would not be affected by the law change. Her son Jon Curtis, who is now 19, attended the centre for 11 years, staying once a fortnight.
She said: “We all understand the need for spending cuts, but to attack the most vulnerable in society isn’t right. The long-term effects will be disastrous. It will break apart families, and force more children into full-time care, which is far more costly and not what anyone, least of all these dedicated parents, want.”
Staff at The Bungalow and Maplewood House declined to comment until their future is decided. However, a former Maplewood employee, who asked not to be named, claimed staff had already been asked to apply for voluntary redundancy.
Angela Murphy, who spearheaded the Evening Post-backed campaign to save Maplewood, said: “We fought and thought we won four years ago, but we seem to keep getting pulled back into the same battles.”
County Coun Bill Winlow, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “To target the most vulnerable in society is totally wrong, and we have to stand against it.”
County Coun Susie Charles, cabinet member for children and schools, defended the proposals. She said: “I understand how important our respite care services are to those who use them and, because of this, we are involving parents and carers well before we reach the stage of formal consultation on any proposals.
“Our eight respite care homes for children are currently running under capacity. In addition, new legislation means that the maximum number of respite care nights per year will reduce from 120 to 75 before a child is legally classed as being ‘looked after’, or in care. It is anticipated that this will further increase spare capacity.
“The county council must make savings of £179m over the next three years and, because of the scale of the budgetary pressures, all service areas are coming under scrutiny.”