Taking children for a break away from home can be stressful for any family. But when one member of the family has specific needs that have to be considered at all times, going on holiday can be nearly impossible.

Luckily, the Charity’s Child and Family Weeks are designed to help, offering a safe, judgement-free break for the whole families with complex needs. These can include a child with special care needs resulting from a disability or health condition, or families going through unforeseen circumstances or life-changing events that affect the children as well.

Please note: The video and photos below were taken in 2019, before coronavirus restrictions.

“Just because a family has more complicated requirements than another doesn’t mean they are any less deserving of a holiday,” says the Charity’s Welfare Services Lead, Carrie Pearce. “It’s so important to be able to offer families time away from the pressures and stresses of everyday life and spend some quality time together.”

Sarah and Chris Mepham, with their daughters Esme and Connie

The Child and Family week is an activity-based programme offered on a residential basis at Harcombe House, our centre in Devon. Activities include arts and crafts, fishing, walking, gym games, quizzes and much more. All family members are invited to take part in activities, including parents and siblings, aiming to support and encourage greater social interaction, communication and increased confidence.

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“We can go anywhere in the world, beautiful places, but we can never completely relax,” says London Firefighter Dan Bills, whose son, Josh, has autism. “You’re always worried about what other people might be looking at or thinking, but you can come here and know no one is discriminating or looking at anyone differently. You can come here and completely relax.”

Kelly and Dan Bills, with their children Isla, Mia and Josh

For Shona Mellon, whose daughter Isla has complicated medical needs that make taking her out in overly-crowded spaces difficult, these are the only breaks her family have ever been on: “I think it’s an amazing thing for the Charity to do,” says Shona, whose partner Dave is a firefighter with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue.

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“Meeting the other families, we’ve all got our own unique little bonds and our areas in common. It’s nice because we all know what each other is going through; Isla is autistic, but we’re not judged by her having a meltdown or something happening. We’ve got the support of each other and can go at our own pace. You don’t often get to meet families who have got the complex histories that we do.”

“It’s so special to see how quickly families bond with each other,” says Carrie. “They are united by a shared experience, of having something that makes life that little bit more complicated.”

Dave Shaw and Shona Mellon, with their children Isla and Oliver

This year, the Charity is planning two Child and Family weeks in August, as restrictions ease and movement around the UK is once again allowed.

The first, which will run from Monday 2 August to Friday 6 August, will be dedicated to single parent families. It will not only be a break for the kids, but also a chance for single parents to spend time with them, with support available. Whether you’ve tragically lost a partner, you’ve been through a difficult split, or your partner is suffering a life-changing illness which has made you the sole caregiver, we’re there for you.

Then in the week after, from Monday 9 August to Friday 13 August, we will run our usual week dedicated to children with complex needs, as well as their primary caregivers who may also need a break. While the activities will be based on kids’ needs throughout, there will also be support available for parents too.

Families are assessed on an individual basis by a member of the Welfare team, with priority given to those who have not taken part previously. For more information, or to be considered for a Child and Family week, phone our Support Line today on 0800 389 8820 or apply online.

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