Anger over move to reduce playscheme provision for disabled children

Parents of children with severe disabilities have hit out at council plans to reduce how much they can use a holiday playscheme service, saying that families need the support to help them survive.

Monday, 18th December 2017, 9:18 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th December 2017, 10:25 am
Oaklands pupils have used the service. Picture: Submitted

Representatives from three special schools are now urging councillors to reconsider, amid fears the changes will hit families whose children have the most complex needs the hardest.

The council has been providing its holiday activity programme - a non-statutory service - for around 15 years and it is used by around 400 families every year.

It provides a day care service for youngsters to play in a safe, fun environment, all the while relieving the pressure on families who might struggle to access local services during the holiday period.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Under the previous provision, families could apply for a maximum of six weeks every year, but following a re-tendering of the playscheme contract this is set to go down to four weeks from January.

Leigh Ferrand, 40, chair of Braidburn Special School’s parent council, has a son in P3. She said the playscheme was not simply about “fun summer activities” but the very survival of Edinburgh families.

She said: “We are not asking for an increase, we are asking for it to be maintained.

“It’s been cut by a third for people who need it to survive – with no alternative impact assessment about how are these families going to survive without that.

“On top of that, it’s about the general lack of provision. Where are these children meant to go?

“It’s not acceptable. What are we meant to do? I’m in fortunate position, I’m a relatively capable mum, but I still struggle.

“I’m not asking about me per se, I’m doing this more for other people because I know other families in my school are in an extremely vulnerable position.”

Mrs Ferrand joined two other parent council chairs – Elaine Weir of Oaklands school and Sarah Kyambi of St Crispin’s – to air their concerns to the council’s education committee.

Ms Kyambi told of the daily struggle faced by parents of children at their schools, many of whom have severe disabilities.

She said: “We need playscheme. Without playscheme, we cannot look after the children that we love.

“We want to look after our kids, we love them – but you can’t ask us to do more than this.

“There are parents in our schools who rarely sleep, parents who are so poor they can’t purchase the heavily subsidised playscheme service, parents who are being bitten and kicked, parents who just cannot manage without the service and who are hugely, hugely worried about losing it.”

They added that the council’s consultation process was not carried out in an adequate manner, and said some of their families might not have picked up on it due to the pressures of caring that they face.

Mrs Ferrand, who juggles looking after her son with her job as a social worker, said she hoped their deputation would inspire cross-party support to look at potential solutions.

She said if the council could not return to the six-week maximum, that they had suggested the possibility of protecting one third of playscheme.

It is hoped this would ensure the children and families with the highest levels of need could continue to access this amount of service.

The council’s contract for its playscheme service was re-tendered in August and has now been allocated to a single provider, Fabb Scotland.

The contract will run for a three years and seven months until March 2021, with the possibility to extend over two periods of 12 months each.

The reduction in the maximum number of weeks has been put down to a number of factors, including increased demand, increasing transport costs and paying for the Living Wage.

The council said there would continue to be provision for children with the most complex needs within the new contract.

Councillors lined up to praise the women for their “heartbreaking” deputation, with Green education spokeswoman Mary Campbell saying she was “shocked” by their stories.

She said: “It is clear that the current arrangements for holiday playscheme cover are not working as intended – neither for children, nor for giving families the breathing space they need.

“I was impressed by the parents’ willingness to come up with practical solutions to improve the service and I’m looking forward to working with parents, officers and my fellow councillors do that as quickly as possible.”

Ian Perry, convener of the education, children and families committee, said they would be looking at what could be done to address the parents’ concerns.

He said: “We listened very carefully to the deputation last week and as a result have set up a working group to explore solutions to concerns raised about the holiday play scheme provision.

“They will consider the issues raised by the deputation such as provision for children with severe disabilities, the constraints around staffing and finance, tailoring the service to meet the needs of families and ensuring there is engagement with affected parents.

“Our aim is to ensure that disabled children and young people using the service gain the maximum benefit.”

Support our Christmas campaign to make Edinburgh the Capital of Kindness - Sign up HERE