Speaking Material for Minister Tim O´Malley T.D. on the Occasion of the launch of the National Home Sharing Network

Thank you for inviting me here today to launch the National Home Sharing Network.

The National Home Sharing Network has been established with a view to agencies adopting a more collaborative approach in the area of Family Based Respite Care. The Network is an inter-agency endeavour, which aims to develop good practice, provide support to carers, share information and to raise awareness about this specific type of respite provision.

Family based respite care provides an alternative to institutional care which can segregate service users from everyday life. Often children and adults with an intellectual disability do not have the same opportunities to develop a network of friends and therefore can feel isolated within their own community. Family based respite can sometimes bridge that gap as the child or adult develops relationships and new experiences within a community context. The concept of family based care not only provides care in the community but care by the community. It upholds the principles of social inclusion which is the right of every individual.

The Changing structure of Irish society, with smaller family units and increased social mobility, has led to many people being socially isolated in their communities. The large, geographically close family networks, which were a great source of support, are no longer the norm for most people. In addition to this, for many families who have a child with a learning disability they are often less likely to ask friends or relatives to help out. Likewise friends and families are less likely to volunteer to look after a child with a disability.

By and large, families who have a child with a learning disability do a marvellous job in responding to the needs of their child. The level of love, care and encouragement they give their children is often striking. However caring can be demanding and at times overwhelmingly so. The provision of respite care has been found to reduce stress, strain and burnout in families thus providing a valuable means of enhancing the families’ coping resources. As some families receive little help from the wider family, neighbours or friends it remains with the service providers to make available alternative forms of support.

Research shows that parents derive great satisfaction from this type of respite as they valued the informal and personal nature of the service. The National Home Sharing Network strives to work alongside parents and values their participation.

Family based respite provides a quality and cost effective service which needs to be elevated from its existing status as an appendix to main stream respite services. In order for this type of respite services to be offered as a meaningful choice to families it needs to be given recognition as an equally important respite alternative.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games will not only be the biggest sporting event which Ireland has ever hosted, but it will provide a unique opportunity for practically everyone in the country to become involved, in some manner, in this spectacular event. From the youngest members of our communities to adults of all ages, everyone can play a part.

As the opening to the Special Olympics is almost upon us there is a heightened awareness and support for the intellectually disabled community. One way for people to continue, “sharing the feeling” is to get involved in family based respite schemes. One of the greatest challenges facing the family based respite is the recruitment of new carers.

Host carers are the lifeblood of the family based respite based schemes. The schemes are only as good as the carers that they attract. I would like to pay tribute to all those involved in the provision of services and to acknowledge the exceptional commitment that carers have given to these schemes over the years.

I would also like to acknowledge the energy and vision within services, where staff are finding creative and innovative ways to develop and enhance this type of respite provision which is clearly evident in the excellent co-operation that has taken place to establish the National Home Sharing Network.

It is with great pleasure therefore that I now formally launch the Network and wish every success to everyone involved.