Short breaks or shared care is a way of getting a break from looking after your child.

It gives you the chance to relax or spend time with others, knowing that your child is in safe hands.

Why taking a break is important

Looking after children can be hard work, so it’s important to take a break. Giving yourself the time and space away from your child benefits both of you in several ways:

  • Your child is getting the chance to form their own relationships with new friends, exploring new activities, doing things independently, and using different methods to build their confidence.
  • You’re getting the chance to relax, spending quality time doing your own thing, socialising with friends and family, and focusing on tasks that require your full attention without the need to worry about anything else.

Support from family and friends

Another family member or a close friend may be able to look after your child for a short playdate, either regularly or occasionally. If anyone is nervous about caring for a child with sight impairments, they can always look through our Let’s Play and Parties and Playdates resources for ideas. If your child is nervous, you could stay for the first session, then leave them for 10 minutes, then 30 minutes, working up to them being independent for the full playdate.

Arranging a break through local authorities

Many local authorities and organisations support activity providers in their local area, making accessible offers to those that need them, in addition to any clubs that are already in the area. At these activities and clubs, your child could be doing anything from playing and exploring the space freely, to working towards achievements or certificates in art, music, or sport, or completing their National Citizenship Service or Duke of Edinburgh. Arranging a break for yourself and your child can be done in a variety of different ways, including:

Going to mainstream clubs

Many mainstream clubs provide for those with sight impairments. Art, music, athletics and judo are all popular choices that can easily be made accessible. Please get in touch with us through the RNIB Helpline if you want to know more about how different mainstream clubs can adapt their activities.

Going to specialist clubs

There are specialist clubs in your area that provide similar activities to their mainstream counterparts. There’s also a wide variety of specialist sports available, including goalball, VI cricket, futsal and blind football, blind tennis and blind rugby. Drama, dance, fine arts and music can also all be made easily accessible.

Attending playgroups or children’s centre

Every county has centres and playgroups that specialise in caring for those with disabilities in addition to mainstream provision. Both mainstream and specialist groups are great places for your child to make friends with others while being supervised and supported by qualified staff. Some centres even offer overnight arrangements for either just the child or the whole family.

Specialist charity activities

Several specialist charities in the UK provide family activities for people with vision impairment, both locally and nationally. You can often leave your children at the activity, meaning that you’re free to relax and focus on yourself. You can find out more about which charities are active in your area by using the Sightline Directory.

Using paid or voluntary befrienders

Befrienders are voluntary or paid carers that look after your child at home or take them to an activity. They can organise something for your child to do, such as cooking, games, going shopping in town, going to the park, or attending a local event. Befrienders are usually arranged privately by individual families, however some local authorities, charities and organisations also provide a befriending service.

Arranging for a foster carer or family

A trained volunteer foster carer or family can become involved with your family and get 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 some time at the foster carer's home and possibly even stay there overnight.

Funding breaks

All of the above breaks, from clubs to foster care, could be paid for via Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payments or Universal Credit. Some providers may accept direct payments, others may require the parents to pay for the sessions in person.

Some charities offer grants that would help to pay for time away too, either as a family holiday in a respite home, or as multiple care sessions. Using the Turn2Us website is a great way to find out what’s available in your local area.

Being apart and communicating

Leaving your child to enjoy an activity on their own can be difficult the first time you do it, you may not initially want to leave them, and they may not initially want to leave you.

Specifying the time that you’ll be back helps to relieve any uncertainty, as does gradually increasing the amount of time your child is at an activity without you and being clear that each increase in time is benefitting you both. Talking with the staff at the club to arrange support and make yourselves more comfortable with being in different places is a great way to prepare, then standing at outside of the hall and chatting with other parents at an activity for just five minutes is all it takes to start.

After being apart, rewarding your child for any time spent independently is important too. Anything from saying “well done for having a go on your own” to talking about their new friends and what they did at the club is a great way to do it. You both missed each other and that’s ok because you both enjoyed your time doing different things.

If you're concerned about other people understanding your child, then using a Communication Passport may benefit you. A Communication Passport is a small booklet written from your child's point of view that describes their needs and the best ways of supporting them - this may be especially useful for children who cannot express their needs or those who aren’t quite ready to talk personally about their support yet. Your local sensory support services can help you develop your child’s Communication Passport.

Further support

The services and provision available to families varies in the different boroughs throughout the United Kingdom. Our team of regionally based Children, Young People and Family Support Officers are able to help you to navigate your local area. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or you’d like to talk further about any of the above, then please get in touch by emailing [email protected] or calling us on 0303 123 9999.