A Rathfriland woman has spent the last 27 years supporting the parents of local children with disabilities.
It all started when Elizabeth Burns read an article appealing for carers, and then attended an information evening with her mum Sally in 1987. Since then she has opened her house to around 15 children for afternoon and overnight short breaks.
“I got involved as I saw the need to give parents with disabled children a break from their caring responsibilities,” explains Elizabeth.
“I’ve always looked after children and was a registered childminder when my own children were young. It was a natural progression for me to specialise in caring for children with disabilities.
“I love children and getting to know them means I see the potential in what they can achieve. My job is very rewarding. The relationship I have with the children’s parents involves a lot of trust. I get a pen picture of the child and the parents probably get a pen picture of me. They want to know where their child is going, and the matching process is gradual with me visiting the parents at their home and the parents visiting me before the child is even introduced.”
“I have regular training and my social worker Karen is always available for advice, support and information. I’m very fortunate to have the support of my husband Dennis and my large family who live nearby. The children who come for a short break in our house become part of our family and community.”
One parent who uses the short breaks scheme says: “Our daughter goes once a week for tea to her short breaks carer, and they are a family with three children. She likes to think of them as her own special friends - she never gets invited anywhere so considers her carers her friends. Short breaks give us time on our own, plus time to spend with our other child”.
The Trust is looking for all kinds of people as carers. They may be single or have a partner, be young or older, working, retired or unemployed. They may or may not have children of their own.
Kate Courtenay, Head of Specialist Child Health and Disability Services at the Southern Health Trust, said: “We are always looking short break carers for children with disabilities. This one of our most commonly requested services. There are no necessary qualifications or experience. We will fully support placements by providing information and skills training.”
For further information on becoming a short break carer, email Christine.Hynes@southerntrust.hscni.net or telephone 028 3082 5025. To hear Elizabeth’s story visit www.southerntrust.hscni.net/childrensdisabilities.