Respite care and direct payments for children with special needs

Direct payments are a way of getting services such as respite care to people who need them while empowering you with choice. 

Basically, instead of provided services themselves, social services (the council) will put money into your bank account so that you can effectively buy in your own service (in this case, perhaps help in the home or respite care).

The amount you receive will depend on the assessment your council (via social services) makes of your needs. 


Social services should assess whether you are entitled to 'short breaks'. This is the term used for respite, rather than jetting off Bridget Jones-style with a handsome man (which, unfortunately, you are not entitled to, although you probably deserve it).

Respite basically means giving you a break from your caring responsibilities. You will be assessed for entitlement to respite, and you should then be given direct payments so you can arrange the respite care that best meets your needs.

You'll need to keep records of how the money is spent. If you use direct payments to pay a care worker, you're taking on the legal role of an employer. Check if there's any help you can get managing the bureaucracy of this.

Direct payments may pay for in-home care, or even hours with appropriate support at an after-school club.

Be warned that Direct Payments can be erratic and many Mumsnetters claim that you will need to be at 'family meltdown phase' before you are considered eligible.

Those who get respite generally agree that "being very stroppy and vocal" can help.

If you find yourself hitting a brick wall, contact some of the carers' associations (such as Carers UK) and find out more about your rights as a carer.

Overnight respite

You may be offered overnight respite, or respite that includes an overnight stay. This may be at a respite centre (including overnight respite units), or it may be with a foster family.

Even if you're offered overnight respite, you can choose a different type of respite if that's better for your family.

Family Link

Some councils have a Family Link scheme, whereby families develop a relationship with a family with a child with special needs, and offer short-term respite for an hour or two or even overnight.

It is effectively a form of fostering in very short bursts, and may be offered by your local social services.

What Mumsnetters say about respite care

  • We eventually were given eight hours per month 'sitting service' and it's brilliant and just what we needed. A sitter comes to our home and looks after my son and any siblings, too. If I need to take my son to an appointment that states no siblings, then the sitter comes along too and minds the siblings for me. TallulahToo
  • I can use the helper to our mutual satisfaction once she comes - sometimes she even washes up while I eat my dinner while it's hot! You need to tell social services when and how you need the help, and they can tell you what they can offer. Some people get a laundry service, others a sitter, others a carer to take a child swimming, etc. meltedmarsbars
  • We have a 24-hour respite every four weeks when our daughter goes to a family's house and they look after her. They work in our borough as foster carers, and love her. We are so happy that she goes to them as she absolutely loves them and loves being there. PheasantPlucker
  • We chose not to have overnight respite (which was offered by social services) but instead have a few hours of a Saturday afternoon. We still have the other two with us, but it means we can shop or whatever without the tantrums / stealing. peachyClair


Last updated: over 1 year ago