PARENTS of severely disabled children have won their battle against council plans to cut services at a respite centre they describe as their lifeline.
Sunderland City Council’s proposal to close the Sea View Road West centre two nights a week as part of a money-saving exercise have now been scrapped after parents campaigned to stop it.
The authority has made a U-turn after parents fought to keep it open seven days a week, saying it is the only break their families get to from caring for their children who all have very complex needs.
Spearheaded by mum Pamela Mann, from Pennywell, the action group Save Our Respite Services (SORS) was set up to fight the plans.
Her severely disabled daughter Tara Lancaster stays at Sea View Road three nights a month.
Tara, 14, can’t walk, talk, or feed herself and has severe developmental delay, and the weekend breaks give Pamela, 53, much-needed relief from caring for her 24 hours a day.
After writing to MPs and councillors, the issue was included on the agenda of a meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee, where parents expressed their views.
Now the authority’s head of children’s safeguarding, Meg Boustead, has written to them, saying that the plans have been thrown out, that they will be consulted on any future changes, and that their views will be listened to. Following two consultation meetings with parents and a discussion at the city council’s scrutiny committee meeting, I want to reassure you that the proposal to reduce the hours of Sea View Road to a five-night provision has been withdrawn and is no-longer being considered,” the letter read.
“The chairman of the scrutiny committee said the first he knew about what was happening was when he read it in the Echo,” Pamela said. “Because of the story, and because of the online comments, we were heard. We did have a voice.
“We’ve essentially won that battle. It makes me feel so proud of what we have achieved and how we’ve stepped up and had a voice. It’s quite emotional as well, as it caused quite a bit of distress.
“All of the parents are feeling very, very relieved that our disabled children’s respite will continue uninterrupted. It is a huge relief that it’s not going to be tampered with in the near future. These are parents, in very difficult circumstances, have stood up against the machine and have been listened to. It was a huge set-back, the battle we were faced with, it was non-negotiable. They will know in the future that they can’t just do that to us without a full consultation.”
Pamela added: “I want to thank your readers and let them know that their public support – they have posted on the Echo website and written letters of support – has been so important, and, because of the SORS group, we now have a point of contact with the council.”
Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for children’s services, Coun Pat Smith, said: “The council is having to face significant cuts to its funding by central government. We are constantly looking at ways to best meet the needs of our residents with the reduced funding available to us. In relation to providing services to children with disabilities across the city, a possible option was to introduce some changes at Sea View Road, which would have meant the respite centre being open five nights a week.
“Listening to the views of parents and carers has been at the centre of our decision and lead us to conclude that the proposal did not provide a viable option.
“Letters have been sent out explaining the position, and also outlining that we still need to find ways to maintain high levels of care across all services for children with disabilities, whilst delivering value for money. Sea View Road plays an important role in providing short break care for disabled children, and we will continue working with families and staff.”