£350,000 play boost for disabled

DISABLED children in the Capital are to be given greater access to playschemes during school holidays following a £350,000 investment by the council.

Children and youngsters will be entitled to up to six weeks of access to respite playscheme services during the school holidays if the council proposals are approved. About 400 children and young people with a disability receive varying levels of service depending on which special school they attend.

A report to the education, children and families committee, which will be considered by councillors tomorrow, recommends that more than £350,000 of extra funds are committed by 2014-15 to ensure entitlement to the support service is widened.

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If approved, many youngsters with disabilities would see their entitlement increase, with some allocated only one week of the service per year.

Councillor Paul Godzik, the city’s education leader, said: “We want to ensure that every child has the best possible start in life. The Capital Coalition pledged to increase support for vulnerable children, and by ensuring that all children and young people with a disability have the same level of access to this service, we’re demonstrating that we realise how important this service is to families.”

The school holiday respite playscheme is a day care service which provides a fun and safe environment for children to socialise. The council said it provides children with stability and structure similar to the school day.

It also relieves some of the pressures on families who can find holiday periods difficult.

If approved, increases in entitlement provision will be phased in over the next two years, with the redeveloped service in place for 2014-15.

Conservative councillor Jason Rust said: “Given the current disparities in service, in principle I welcome this additional resourcing. It is important that vulnerable young people and their families obtain requisite support.”

The report also details a number of new developments planned for the service in 2014-15, including wrap around childcare to support parents and carers in work, drop-in family swim sessions at pools based in Edinburgh’s special schools and more locally-based services to help parents and carers develop informal networks of support.

It follows “extensive consultation and engagement” with youngsters, parents, carers and partner organisations to help develop the service. The council said consultation with the groups will continue.

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A decision will be made on the proposals at a meeting of the education, children and families committee tomorrow.

‘Fantastic resource’

AMONG the youngsters set to benefit from increased access to the respite playscheme services during the holidays is Alex Cullis, 16, who has epilepsy and a severe learning disability.

The Sycamore Centre pupil receives three weeks of respite playscheme services at Oaklands School during the school holidays.

Alex’s mum, Sarah, 53, who lives in Newington, welcomed the proposals.

She said: “Increasing it to up to six weeks would be very supportive for families and lovely for children – Alex loves going. The playscheme is like a school in that you go in the morning and come back in the afternoon, but it’s not academic. It’s more outings to places like museums and trampoline centres, and going for long walks.

“I think it would be such an incredible support for all families and carers because the holidays are incredibly long, plus you’re taking the children out of their routines and so many things close down during the holidays. In the winter, Alex’s horse riding lessons close down. When the weather’s bad, it’s difficult to get out. The real stresses come during the holidays because they are long and families do break down because they don’t have the extra support and can’t cope.”

The mother-of-one added: “Playschemes, as long as they’re well organised, are a fantastic resource for families. Getting more support benefits everybody – the extra time and support will be really welcomed.”