Future of Derry respite cottage 'unclear', says minister

Sad child looks at adult Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The children's respite cottage is based at Shepherds Way in Derry

The future of the children's respite cottage in Londonderry is "unclear", according to Northern Ireland's environment minister.

The six-bedded unit provides short-term respite care for children with varying degrees of learning disabilities.

The Western Trust said: "Services must be provided within the commissioned level of funding."

A meeting will be held on Friday with SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan, the Western Trust and concerned families.

The unit, known locally as the cottages, supports children from five to 18 with learning disabilities.

Image caption Mark H Durkan said he is extremely concerned any reduction in respite care for families will have an impact on children's health

Environment minister and SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said: "Recently I learned that the Western Trust told parents and carers of children with complex needs that they cannot guarantee respite services on the scale currently being provided.

"After raising these concerns directly with the trust at the Patient Client Council meeting last week, I received public assurances that the facility will remain open.

"However, as always, the devil is in the detail. Trust representatives expanded that the facility will not be able to accommodate families as it had previously.

"While I accept the trust is facing financial pressures, I cannot accept suggestions that families with children with complex needs are able to transport their children to Omagh for respite care.

"We have a facility within the city, we need to increase that provision and enhance the service we can provide here in Derry."

'Breaking point'

A spokesperson for the Western Trust said: "We are committed to providing a broad range of support for families who have children with disabilities.

"The nature of what families and professionals now aspire to is a personalised provision that meets their specific and unique needs.

"To achieve this, the trust is tasked with ensuring that services are designed accordingly and that there is a range of provision that is accessible and appropriate.

"Services must be provided within the commissioned level of funding and coupled with an increased demand for short break services the trust is taking this opportunity to reform our services.

"This review includes the cottages and aims to assist the trust make best use of its available resources. Trust staff will engage with families on an individual basis over the next week."

Jackie Gallagher, whose 15-year-old son is profoundly disabled, said: "This is a place where you can recharge your batteries.

"We are asking the trust please do not take away such a vital respite service that the parents in this city need.

"Parents themselves are at breaking point and the children need this."