Parents 'shunned and overlooked' by lack of respite care

Mum left overwhelmed by autistic son's need for round-the-clock care.

Parents in Caithness say they feel “shunned and overlooked” due to a lack of services for disabled children.

STV News spoke to one mother, Elizabeth Jones, who lives in Castletown with her four children, including son Ollie, who was diagnosed with autism two years ago.

He is non-verbal and goes to a specialist school, however due to a lack of services, Ms Jones feels overwhelmed by the round-the-clock care her son requires.

Respite care for disabled young people in Caithness was stopped during the pandemic and never reinstated.

Ms Jones, who relies on the help of her 11-year-old daughter Olivia, said: “During the night, if he has an interrupted sleeping pattern, he can be awake for hours on end.

“I like to call it the modern-day Highland Clearances because it feels like it all over again – we’re just being shunned and completely overlooked.

“It’s fortunate I’m quite strong, but we need services. For example, overnight respite because they have staff there that work through the night.”

Thor House in Thurso has four respite rooms for children – but they haven’t been used since the pandemic started.

Highland Council said a review of the service was underway and that alternative care was available at Orchard House in Inverness – but that is more than 100 miles from Elizabeth and Ollie’s home.

Councillor Ronald Gunn, for Thurso and Northwest Caithness, said: “If you’re driving, it’s two-and-a half hours and it’s not really worth going down for that.

“It’s bringing on more stress and I am aware of parents who have the need for respite, and they are really struggling.

“This is a service we used to have in Caithness, but it’s been lost, like quite a lot of other services, to Inverness.”

There’s just one service for disabled children, run by local charity on a Saturday morning.

Polly Mathers, from No Limits Caithness, said the service had given some respite to parents while allowing children to socialise.

She said: “I think it’s vitally important for them because it’s giving them a chance to be themselves and have a little bit of time away from parents.

“They can develop their own interests and it’s a chance for them to express themselves in a way they might not be able to at home.”

A spokesperson for the Highland Council said: “While this review is undertaken, the alternative residential provision is Orchard House in Inverness.

“Parents and carers also have the opportunity to access a needs-led assessment for Self-directed Support (SDS) and through this they can employ someone to care for their child in their own home or in the carer’s home to provide them with respite.

“In addition, the council is currently initiating a scoping exercise to understand the needs across the north, which, in turn, will inform service design for respite options. 

“We would encourage as many children and their carers to respond to the questionnaires which will be available via schools and health visitors.”

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