Devoted carers need to be given a break

Help is available to find grants to fund activities, says Louise Watt

Respite funding was made available earlier this year to parents and unpaid carers of people with learning disabilities

There are currently some 660,000 unpaid carers in Scotland who care for a family member, partner or friend. The First Minister announced plans last year at the Carers’ Parliament to develop new legislation to support carers. The legislation will promote, defend and extend the rights of carers and young carers.

The First Minister said: “We know that being an unpaid carer can be a difficult and isolating experience and we want to do all that we can to make sure we are doing everything within our powers to help carers in Scotland.”

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To further support carers, respite funding was made available earlier this year to parents and unpaid carers of people with learning disabilities. Down’s Syndrome Scotland, with funding from the Scottish Government, launched our Keys To Life: Time For You Fund in conjunction with Shared Care Scotland, Enable and Pamis with the aim of helping carers access a break with as much ease as possible. Our fund offers grants to parents/unpaid carers who have a significant caring role for an adult or child with Down’s syndrome living with them. Grants are from £300-£500 but most are in the region of £300.

We understand that a successful break for one person may prove more of a hassle for another. Often the stress involved in arranging a break is particularly high for carers, who have the needs of the person they care for at the top of their priority list and their own needs somewhere much nearer the bottom. When you add to that the complexities of having to fit a break in with the routines of other family members and work commitments, many carers struggle to make a break a reality.

The Keys To Life: Time For You Fund has been designed to overcome this problem. Carers can apply for a grant to fund a short break or activity, which would best suit their lives and their interests. The range of possibilities is truly endless, and to date, we have just scratched the surface of what is possible. However, we have already awarded grants for a wide range of breaks and have had some wonderful feedback from delighted carers and their families.

Whilst the majority of people apply for a grant to support a weekend away for their family, or to help with building funds for the summer break, others have purchased a gym or spa membership, signed up for dance or karate classes or bought a bike/garden furniture to provide themselves and members of the family with many hours of relaxation.

Some carers have travelled to visit friends or family for special occasions such as weddings and birthdays, while others have used their grant to fund travel and accommodation to cheer on young adults with Down’s syndrome as they competed in the Special Olympics.

Despite this great opportunity, we often have to encourage those who are in most need of a break to apply. Carers are often almost entirely focused on the child or family member who they care for, which leaves little time to fill out a form. Our family support service officers are happy to help carers who are put off by filling in forms, or are struggling with issues, which leaves them feeling that a break is just too difficult to arrange.

Over the past year, carers who have received grants from the fund have told us how their breaks have provided opportunities to focus on themselves and other family members away from day-to-day worries. They have shared with us the fun they have had and priceless memories that have been created.

A mum who travelled with her daughter who has Down’s syndrome to see a musical in London said: “Someone else made all the arrangements on our behalf. Someone else was responsible for transport and someone else prepared and served our meals – bliss! The show had us laughing out loud and at the sad part tears were streaming down my daughter’s face. She was so engrossed!”

We encourage all parents and carers to think about what would really work best for them and their families and take full advantage of the flexibility that the Keys for Life: Time For You Fund offers.

• Louise Watt is Grants & Trusts Administrator at Down’s Syndrome Scotland. Down’s Syndrome Scotland’s Keys To Life: Time For You Fund is currently open to applications. See online at