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

Luckily, the Charity’s Child and Family Week is designed to help, offering a safe, judgement-free break for families with complex needs. These needs 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 affects children as well.

“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.

“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 four-year-old 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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Taking Isla swimming is a big deal for us. Due to her dysphagia (unsafe swallow), we have always been scared of what could happen if she swallowed water, and the risk of aspiration pneumonia is something that we didn’t want to take the chance with. But coming away with the firefighters charity and the support we receive means we can do it safely and in a more controlled environment due to the type of pool and staff here. This is only the 4th time Isla has been swimming and she’s loved every minute of it. These little things that most parents take for granted mean the world to us. I would give anything to take her problems away and give her all of the same opportunities that other children get. But for now, we will cherish every second of chances like this and the memories we make from them ❤️❤️❤️❤️ . #medicallycomplex #dysphagia #unsafeswallow #ketotichypoglycemia #tubie #tubefeeding #feedingtube #gtube #specialneeds #specialneedsparenting #makingmemories #swimming #holiday #parentingblogger #mummyblogger #mumbloggeruk #blogger #motherhood

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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

There are three more Child and Family Weeks planned for the year, in July, August and October. 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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