6 November 2001, All Hallows College, Dublin
The first national Family-based Respite Conference, hosted by the Daughters of Charity Services, attracted keen interest—the conference was well attended by a broad section of staff from intellectual and physical disability services throughout Ireland. In existence in Ireland since 1981, family-based respite is a service provided by carers in the community who are specially recruited and trained to undertake the task of caring for a child or adult with a disability for short periods of time. The purpose of the conference was two-fold: to provide a forum for service providers to share information and to discuss common challenges, and to explore the possibility of setting up a national network.
The conference was opened by Dr Tom Moffatt TD, Minister of State in the Department of Health and Children, who acknowledged the diversity and richness of family-based respite schemes around the country. He welcomed the opportunity for services to come together to share information and to look toward the future of family-based respite. He spoke about its important contribution to the wider respite picture—offering as it does a quality, flexibility and choice to families He commended the exceptional commitment given by the carers who are the life-blood of these schemes The minister drew attention to the significant increases in resources that the government has made available to respite provision over recent years; he acknowledged the need to support ongoing work in this area by providing adequate resources.
Keynote speaker Christine Lenehan, who is based with the (UK) National Council for Disabled Children, spoke on the importance of family-based respite schemes- they are cost-effective and provide quality support to children and adults. She emphasised the importance of working in partnership with families, children, carers and the community. One of the main strengths of family-based respite schemes is the balance they manage to strike in addressing the needs of the main players in the respite scenario. Ms Lenehan acknowledged that family-based respite complemented the philosophy of normalisation, creating opportunities for service users to avail of respite in a non-institutional environment. She addressed some of the key challenges which schemes face: the need to focus on recruitment and retention of carers, the need to adopt more imaginative recruitment practices, with regional and national approaches. The issue of payment structures was also highlighted—there may be inequities around the country and local and national agreements may be necessary with the inspectorate of taxes. Ms Lenehan also stressed the need for children with disabilities to be seen as children first, with service providers making a commitment to promote participation and empowerment.
The latter part of the conference consisted of a panel discussion which focused on exploring the delegates’ support for the establishment of a national network. This plan received the overwhelming support, with a consensus that there would be many advantages in having a national organisation which could strengthen the voice of all those involved in schemes. It was felt that any network should be representative of all the parties, including parents, carers and service users. The conference organising committee agreed that they would facilitate the establishment of a national network of all those services interested in taking part.
The conference was closed by Walter Freyne, Director of Services of the Daughters of Charity Services. He encouraged delegates to move forward with the energy and enthusiasm generated by the conference. As we celebrate twenty years of family-based respite in Ireland, we now have the opportunity to develop towards the future—perhaps this conference will mark the next phase in family-based respite in our country. Anyone interested in joining the National Network for Family-based Respite Services should contact Eileen Carroll, Social Workers, Child Study Centre, Navan Road, Dublin 7 (01-838 3881).