As lockdown restrictions lift, most of us have emerged from our homes to mingle, shop, eat out and enjoy the everyday freedoms of life.
Not so for some however, as the past year has had a devastating effect on people with learning disabilities, whose services have been decimated.
Kathryn Taylor never intended to be a spokesperson for such families, but the situation has become so difficult for her family, that she’s been left with little choice.
While the rest of us are out and about, not much has changed for Kathryn, who is still walking the roads with her sons.
Kathryn and her husband Tommy have four children – Sophie, Nathan, Levi and Sam.
Nathan (25) and Levi (20) have autism with severe learning disabilities.
It’s been a constant battle to obtain the help that they need over the years, and Kathryn says it’s getting worse rather than better – as Southern Trust services continue to shut down, with little thought for children moving to adult services.
She believes the pandemic only served to speed up the erosion of services that was already happening.
Day opportunities stopped with the pandemic, and because of the two-metre rule, the Trust has not reopened them and Kathryn can’t envision a time that they will.
As Kathryn spoke to Armagh I for this week’s podcast, she emotionally recalled the wonderful day opportunity Nathan enjoyed at St Luke’s Rec Room, pre-pandemic.
Since lockdown began Levi, whose schooling ended abruptly last year, has been at home, joined at the hip with his mother.
Print It on the Mall has been the only support Kathyrn has had. They are not run by the Trust. She’s enormously grateful to Print It, who checked in with the family regularly during lockdown, and both boys get to spend some time there now.
Levi also has behavioural problems, so finding day opportunities for him was tough enough as it was, but now he has settled into a routine at home and has regressed over the past year – He hides his mothers shoes to keep her in the house with him.
Kathryn isn’t looking for respite – although she worries for those that do. She just wants an outlet for her children to socialise, grow and develop to the best of their abilities, in a like-minded community where they are understood and their needs can be met.
Kathryn also desperately needs some space of her own – just like anyone does – for her own mental health and that of the other family members.
Read the Southern Trust’s response to Kathryn’s concerns below.
A spokesperson for the Southern Health trust said: “We are unable to comment on any individual and we appeal to the family, and other families affected by this story, to contact their community learning disability service directly.
“The global Covid-19 pandemic is still ongoing and The Trust continues to work with Infection Prevention and Control colleagues and the Public Health Agency to ensure both Day opportunities and Short Break services adheres fully to Covid-19 advice.
“We are very aware of the particular vulnerability of some of our service users to the virus and the potential impact on their health.
“Within The Trust, efforts are ongoing to rebuild learning disability day opportunities in conjunction with the community and voluntary sector, local councils and transport providers.
“Some service users and families in discussion with their Case Manager have chosen to receive services in a different way to pre-Covid services. Alternative services include a Direct Payment from the Trust which enables the service user / family to directly employ carers to meet the assessed need from home; new or increased domiciliary care hours provided through a Care Agency; short breaks provision (bed based or non-bed based) through direct service provision or a flexible respite direct payment. Professional input from members of Disability and other Trust teams have continued throughout the pandemic to support service users and families who have not been able to return to services at present.
“Overnight short breaks (formerly respite) for the Learning Disability population are operating in the Southern Trust albeit at a significantly reduced rate due to the impact of Covid on care providers and in response to unprecedented and emergency situations. The Respite/ short break team have been keeping in contact with the carers and the case managers to identify carers in need of respite and using the available resources to prioritise carers in urgent and emergency need. The Trust is working with the independent and third sector providers to increase availability and flexibility of short break options.”
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