A respite centre that opened during the lockdown to support the families of children with complex needs will be forced to withdraw services unless it receives additional funding.
The €2.9m St Gabriel’s Respite House in Limerick was designed to provide respite breaks for families from across the Mid-West who have children with physical disabilities and complex medical needs. However, despite being completed 18 months ago, the centre did not open, due to operational funding deficits. In response to the urgent need for support, it was specially adapted and opened in June.
St Gabriel’s School, where most of the children attend, remains closed since the Covid-19 outbreak in March. Likewise, carers have not been able to visit some families due to restrictions. This has left many parents on their own, according to Maire O’Leary, chief executive of St Gabriel’s.
“The parents had to pick up all the pieces themselves,” she said. “We helped them as best we could remotely, but telehealth does not work for children with such complex disabilities.”
Almost 30 families took part in the centre’s respite programme. Four children attend each day from 10am to 2pm. Each child has separate rooms, including bathrooms, with direct access to the outside when spending the day in their own ‘pod’.
“They need care, love, fun, and support, which they can only get when people interact with them on a personal level, face to face,” said Ms O’Leary. “They get that from their parents, but they are now exhausted.”
The respite programme costs an additional €10,000 of fundraising money on top of the centre’s existing funding to run it for four weeks.
“We are appealing to the HSE to commit to future funding to keep the respite house open to families of children with physical disabilities and complex medical needs, as we know what this is doing for the parents and, indeed, for the children,” said Ms O’Leary.
A spokesman for the HSE Mid West Community Healthcare said it has not been possible to provide the funding required to open the facility fully due to budgetary constraints.
“The HSE would like to be in a position to support the opening of this respite facility which will meet the needs of a very vulnerable cohort of children,” it stated.