Coronavirus: information and updates

Finding respite care (short breaks) when you look after a disabled child

Respite care, also called short breaks, is temporary care that lets you take a break from looking after your child. This could mean:

  • help at home during the day, evenings or at weekends, sometimes called ‘home care’ or ‘replacement care’
  • support for your child to do fun activities
  • care overnight, either at home or somewhere else so that you can sleep

Some local authorities often pay for respite care. Some parents apply for grants or pay themselves, if they can.

Help from your local authority

Local authorities must publish all services available to support disabled children, and their families in the area. This is called the 'Local Offer’. It covers education, health and social care services.

Local authorities must include respite care, usually called short break services. Short break services includes organised activities as well as full residential and overnight care.

Contact your local authority to find your Local Offer (GOV.UK)

Assessed support

Your local authority will assess your child’s needs. They will also offer to assess your needs as a parent carer. These assessments will vary by area. They may be called a ‘carer’s assessment’, ‘parent carer’s assessment’ or a ‘children in need assessment’.

Email your local authority to ask for a full assessment.

Needs assessments (

Carer’s assessments (Carers UK)

You are entitled to an assessment if your child is a ‘child in need'

The law defines ‘children in need’ as children under 18 years who either:

  • will not meet or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without local authority support
  • are disabled as defined under the Equality Act 2010

Your rights to respite care as a carer

You do not need to have an emergency to get respite care. It’s there to help you:

  • care for your disabled child more effectively
  • do training or leisure activities by yourself
  • look after other children in your family
  • do everyday tasks at home

Asking for respite care does not mean you’re saying that you cannot cope. 

Finding a carer for your disabled child

Your local authority must give you care if their assessment shows that you need it

Your local authority cannot say it’s their policy to refuse to provide a certain type of care or to limit support.

For example, it would be unlawful for your council to say that because of their policy, they cannot give you:

  • more than 8 hours of care a week
  • overnight care

You have the right to an assessment if you ask for one

You can still get support without a diagnosis of a specific condition if your paediatrician or doctor has identified your child's additional needs. You do not need a diagnosis for your child. This right comes under the Children Act 1989.

Direct payments

Sometimes, local authorities in England offer a personal budget in the form of direct payments so that you can pay for services.

Paying a carer directly means that you are an employer. Your local authority may provide a direct payment service to make this easier.

It’s your choice. You get to decide if you want to manage direct payments or ask the council to arrange services for you.

You can ask for:

  • the local authority to organise all services
  • some service to be arranged by the local authority, and pay for other services using direct payments
  • direct payments and arrange all services yourself

If you do not get care or your support stops

Start by making a formal, written complaint to your local authority. You can also contact your MP for help. If a complaint does not work, you can:

  • contact the local government and social care ombudsman
  • get legal advice about judicial review

Local government and social care ombudsman

Finding free or affordable legal help (Citizens Advice)


Most grants will not pay for things that you can get through your local authority. Find out what respite care you might be eligible for before applying for a grant.

Applying for grants

Paying for care yourself

You can pay for respite care using direct payments from your local authority or using your own money.

Find a carers centre service (Carers Trust)

Respite and babysitting (Sky Badger)

Managing stress

Caring for a disabled child can be stressful.

Managing stress as the parent of a disabled child.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 21/10/2021

Was this page helpful?

We're sorry to hear that.

Tell us how we can improve it

Need more help as a parent?

Opens in a new windowOpens an external siteOpens an external site in a new window