Short breaks for children with disabilities: a family friendly approach to research

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A family friendly approach to research, undeterred by a pandemic…

In September 2020 we started on our journey to explore families' views of the current Short Breaks clubs and activities service. Our brief was to see how current services were meeting the needs of children with disabilities, and what services might look like in the future.

Using a mixed methodology and a strong co-production ethos, we involved families to help shape our approach. A successful countywide survey gave us an initial oversight of the current landscape, with 200 survey respondents wanting to be involved in engagement activities.

From this positive response we undertook 20 one-to-one interviews and three focus groups with parents, and gathered feedback from children and young people and service providers. Although this was all done virtually, we were still able to gather real quality insights. Shifting to virtual engagement was also a positive for many families, enabling them to engage with us in ways they would not have been able to ‘in person’, and increasing inclusion.

Listening to more than the ‘obvious’ gives us the learning…

The insights from this research went well beyond our initial scope, as the things parents told us unearthed valuable insights around the whole system for families.

We learnt not to be afraid for the research to be led by participants and what is most important to them, as taking an open-minded approach has the potential to create the biggest change for families.

Sharing our insights..."every family needs to go on their own journey."

Yes, we produced a report, but we also needed to make sure that the findings from this research were shared in an accessible and impactful way, focussing on families’ lived experience.

We produced a short film showcasing key findings from the research and the stories of four families in Essex. We worked closely with the families to help bring their experiences to life ‘on screen’ in a sensitive way.

Screenshot of parent and child from film
Image from film with families in Essex

The film was shared with families, colleagues, and stakeholders at a series of webinars, enabling decision-makers to understand families’ needs and experiences.

Sharing the outputs with both internal and external stakeholders is enabling a more joined up approach and increased opportunities for children with disabilities. The film has inspired an appetite for real change, that will deliver positive outcomes for families in Essex.

Our work was also recently shortlisted for a LARIA Research Impact Award, for ‘Most Engaging Communication of Local Area Research or Analysis’.

All outputs from this research are available to view on ECC’s Short Breaks website.

What next?

The research is already making an impact, with a number of ‘quick wins’ for service improvements being developed over the next few months. The findings are being used to inform the new Short Breaks service offer and a countywide strategy for Essex, which will place families’ needs at the heart.

We’ll be looking to engage further with families as this work progresses, so stay tuned…

There is a need for change and choices. Children and young adults, whatever their ability, need to be given choice. 

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