Short breaks or shared care is a way of getting a break from looking after your child. It gives parents the chance to relax or spend time with others, knowing that their child is in safe hands.

How short breaks or shared care works

Looking after children is hard work! If your child has particular health or learning needs, you may feel that it's difficult to find time for a break. It might be hard to find people and places where you feel your child's needs can be catered for. Using short breaks or shared care means you can relax, spend quality time with your other children, or do other things that aren't possible while you're caring for your child.

It can be good for your child too. Spending time away can open up new experiences, places, activities and relationships. There are various ways to set up short breaks, including:

  • Foster carer or family: A trained volunteer foster carer or family becomes involved with your family and gets to know your child. Your child may then start to spend time with the foster carer in your own home while you have a break. Eventually your child may spend time at the foster carer's home and even stay there overnight.
  • Going to a centre: Your child goes to a centre where they can spend time with other children and qualified staff, possibly staying overnight.

If you're concerned about other people understanding your child, you may find it helpful to use a Communication Passport, which is a small booklet written from your child's point of view. This can be especially good for children with complex needs.

You can access shared care, respite care or short breaks through your local authority Children's Services department. Services vary throughout the country.

At the moment, there aren't enough openings for short breaks or shared care for the number of families requesting it.

However, the government has recently formally recognised the need for local authorities to provide respite and short breaks for families caring for a child with disabilities, and has released significant funding to build up services. 

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