Margaret and Alan Tunacliffe have two children, Lucy aged 17, and Nathan aged 15. Both have autism and severe learning difficulties. David Thornley's son Michael, 15, has complex learning difficulties, autism and cerebral palsy.
Vincent Riley's 13 year old daughter, Courtney Davies, has cerebral palsy. Caroline and Peter Dawson have 16 year old twin daughters, Laura and Megan, who have autism and epilepsy.
These are the circumstances of just a few parents who love their kids and devote all their lives to caring for them. Without a break to re-charge their life batteries, however, these people would be totally drained, with knock-on effects for their kids and family life.
That break, or respite, comes for short periods at The Grange – a purpose built five bedded short break residential unit for children with disabilities aged between seven and 17…
"Lucy loves it" says Margaret "It's got a sensory room, a play area, it's her holiday. Here she is in the house all the time."
"Courtney finds it hard to mix with her peers in our area like her younger sister" says Vincent "At The Grange it's like a little social life of its own for her. The staff are great, she enjoys it there and it's a small but welcome break for us."
"Megan and Laura love it" adds Caroline "They walk in as if they own the place."
For the 27 parents who use The Grange, it provides a rest, and for the kids it's like a holiday home. Now Salford Council wants to move the short term break kids out of there, send the under 14 year olds to foster carers, and put the over 14s into Granville House, which is an adult facility (see previous Salford Star article for full details – click here).
In financial terms it's a cut of around £500,000. In real life terms the parents aren't having it, and have launched a Save The Grange campaign with the community and trade union Salford City UNISON.
"The ones who need the most and cost the most are being let down" explains Margaret "They're saying `We can't afford to look after your children'. But these are vulnerable children with complex needs. They are persecuting our children for the way they are because they are more needy than anybody else."
In the rush to save money and get the disabled kids out of The Grange, Salford Council presented figures to show that the respite centre was underused and had "occupancy rates averaging around 55% since 2004/05". Immediately, parents questioned the stats…
"It was the stick they hit us with, that there had been a decline in demand but I don't believe it" says Vincent "I had an 18 month wait to get my daughter in there. They couldn't find a space for her, yet they are saying that it's half empty? She goes for one night a month. We did ask if we could put that up to two nights a month, with no response. But at 55% capacity surely that should be no problem."
David Thornley went to a meeting with Salford Council about the proposals… "I asked `Why 2004? And why is one child only getting 12 nights when she really needs 24 nights?' They looked at us and went `Oh'. That was it. They've got no answers."
Since questions were asked, the Council came back with revised figures of 70% occupancy over the last two years. Even this figure is questioned, given the wait to get children into the respite centre, given that one bed is always kept free for emergencies, plus the suspicion that the panel which decides whether kids can go to The Grange is denying access in favour of `direct payment' routes and thus running the place down.
So far, the Council has come up with no answers (see Part 2 interview with John Merry, Assistant Mayor for Children and Young People - click here).
Meanwhile, Parents are also questioning the ethics of putting children, aged 14 to 17, into the adult centre at Granville House, where the age range is 18 to 85…
"Someone's talked about the sexual aspect of this - they might be 14 but they're not 14 in their head, they're five and it frightens the life out of me" says Alan "They come up with stupid ideas like `Well, we won't have children in on the nights that adults are in' and that they will build a separate door…"
Caroline and Peter Dawson are not happy at all with the idea of sending their 16 year old twin daughters to Granville…
"They're autistic, one has no concept of stranger danger at all" says Caroline "She will go and give hugs and kisses to anyone who shows her any amount of attention, so going in with adults is not appropriate."
The safeguarding aspect also bothers David…
"If something goes wrong I'd never forgive myself, therefore unless you prove to me that Michael is going to be 100% safe he's not going" he insists "If you had a mainstream daughter who was 14 or 15 and you were going through problems in your life so they put her into care, and six months later they said `We're going to stick your daughter in with adults, it will be ok won't it?'…all hell would break loose. So where's the difference? Is the Council saying `We can put disabled adults and children together and nothing will happen?'".
Parents argue that, even if the Council did have separate sessions for younger and older people, they are both going to have times curtailed.
"It wouldn't work because the people who are in Granville now won't get the respite they are currently getting because their time will be cut" says Margaret.
Meanwhile, under the proposals, those children under 14 will be placed with `specialist' foster carers for their breaks. Salford Council currently has one person, and is looking to recruit one more. But as parents point out, their homes will have to adapted to have things like ground floor access for wheelchairs, special bathrooms, safe areas, sensory environments… all of which comes at a cost. And will the new foster carer be competent?
The preferred Salford Council option is also to lose the short term kids who currently use The Grange, in order to bring back children who require medium and long term care, and are currently placed outside the city. Bringing them back is the big cost saving – except that there are 29 currently staying outside of Salford, and only five beds at The Grange. Whether the children's families want them to come back to Salford is another question, given that they will lose all their current friends and social contacts.
"If you want to look at bringing these children back to Salford to save money, do it in a better way, there's lots of empty buildings here" reasons David "Organise it and leave the people at The Grange where the staff know the children, the children know the staff.
"Michael can't walk, he can't talk…he can tell you what he wants in his own way, but he can't tell you what his problem is…His developmental age at best is watching The Hoobs, maybe seven or eight" he adds "He's got autism cerebral palsy, his hand doesn't work, he can't stand up on his own. The Grange have had him for four years and are still coming to terms with him… and they want him to go to a completely new facility with different staff?"
Indeed, there are so many unanswered questions and problems. The parents have all the reasonable, thoughtful, rational arguments against closing The Grange for their children. But the Council has already stated that leaving the service as it stands is not an option. With around £500,000 `savings' on the line service is now `not viable'.
There's a consultation running until August 14th. But the option of keeping The Grange for short term respite is not an option. There is, however, the option of shutting The Grange completely and selling the building.
The parents, together with concerned people from the community and trade union, Salford City UNISON - worried about the effects on the children, parents and staff who work at The Grange - have decided to fight the decision, forming a new Save The Grange campaign.
"This cut is purely financially driven and has been poorly thought out and ill conceived" says UNISON's Ameen Hadi "The Council, I believe, has a duty to protect the most vulnerable who have borne the brunt of horrendous Tory cuts. We fully support the parents and the disabled children campaign to retain quality services for their future."
The parents aren't just fighting for their own children but for future generations, because, as Alan points out, "once The Grange is gone, it's gone…
"One of our children has got to move to Granville anyway but what about all these new children coming through who need The Grange?" he says "More and more children are coming through with cerebral palsy, autism and all those kind of things and the list is growing. Parents need somewhere to put their children and have a break to re-charge their batteries - otherwise family life will just disintegrate, and what happens is that parents split up, the children end up in care and there's a massive cost, an even bigger cost."
The point is underlined by David, a single working parent…
"It's madness…The Grange has got a new manager in there who has transformed the place, we've got a valuable asset doing the job fine, so don't let's take it away" he says "This Government and Council are of the opinion that carers should look after adults or children in the home. If you want me to look after him, support me - don't take away my support."
The parents contrast their position with the public money that has been thrown at Salford Reds rugby club, the £69,000 Mayor, the £72,000 spin doctor, the £100,000s on Assistant Mayors, plus £millions on fountains and bridges…
"If these things can be done why can't they be done to help the most vulnerable members of society?" asks David.
"You think to yourself, `Hang on, if we've got no money, we've got no money and we'll all batten down the hatches there's nothing anyone can do'" says Alan "But you know there is something they can do. The way they are spending the money is completely out of order. A lot of them have come from working class backgrounds and trade unions and then feathered their own nests; that's the annoying part. They say it's not like that but it is."
Caroline, who has MS on top of caring for her daughters, says she has a large care package of support…"but now they're trying to take it away and it ain't going to happen. If I've got to turn up in my hospital bed, it ain't going to happen…
"It's not going to be easy to make a noise because I think a lot of the parents are going to be tired" she adds "We need this like a hole in the head."
There are only 27 tired families in Salford affected by cuts to The Grange but they are calling for support in their campaign from the wider community.
"We always say `Thank god' for this break to just so we can have an hour out to go to my mum's or have a sleep" he adds "We don't ask for much just a break…"
The SAVE THE GRANGE petition is online at Change.org - to sign click here
There's also going to be a lobby of councillors and Mayor Ian Stewart at the next Full Council meeting on July 17th, beginning at 8:30am.
In Part 2 the Salford Star grills John Merry, Assistant Mayor for Children and Young People about the cuts to The Grange, putting to him all the points the parents have raised. Will he have any answers? Click here
Main photo shows Margaret with Nathan and Lucy