Parents desperate as staff shortages force Southampton care home to cancel respite visits

Watch Rachel Hepworth's report on the parents losing out on respite care because of a lack of staff.

A care home for children with profound special needs says it's being forced to cancel vital help for dozens of families because of a crisis in staffing levels.

For seventy years, Rose Road in Southampton has offered a lifeline for parents who need support with a disabled child.

But, a combination of Covid and a lack of agency workers, means they simply can't meet the growing demand.

Rose Road offers much-needed day and overnight care for disabled children and young people

"It's incredibly frustrating," says Juno Hollyhock, who has just retired after years as Rose Road's CEO.

"The impact of the recruitment and retention crisis for us is that in order to run a safe service, we're having to cancel families who have got planned respite. For some of these families, they've actually got holidays booked.

"They might have family celebrations, they're looking forward to attending or they may just need a few days and nights relief from their caring duties. For our staff to have to telephone them and say, 'I'm so sorry, we don't have the staff to facilitate your respite stay' is heartbreaking.

Among those affected, Debby Spicer, from Southampton, whose two sons love coming to Rose Road for one or two-night stays.

Debby Spicer and her son George

Alfie has Downs Syndrome and George, autism- meaning she and her husband rarely get more than a couple of hours sleep.

"They both have completely different sleep patterns," says Debby. Alfie goes to bed later and wakes every couple of hours, while Alfie gets up around 5 or 6. It's exhausting.

"Sometimes you have no idea how tired you are, and how low you are in yourselves. When the children first came here we just went 'phew.' We hadn't realised just how much we needed a break"

But they've now had several visits cancelled because there aren't enough staff to care for the boys safely.

Alfie has Down Syndrome while George is autistic

"It's got to the point that we don't tell the boys when they're supposed to be going in case it gets cancelled.

"It makes George incredibly sad, and Alfie cries when we tell him. It's impossible to explain to him why it's happening."

The predicament is partly a result of the impact of the Covid pandemic, says Juno:

"I think people are exhausted, they're emotionally and physically exhausted.

"Even the very physical challenges of working every day in full PPE, especially in the warmer weather, is really challenging and it makes the job very different.

"We've always tried to backfill with agency staff to mean that we can run safely.

"But with the introduction of the double vaccination last year, that came to be a problem in that the agency staff pool of candidates significantly reduced.

"And we can't have people on our staff team who haven't been double vaccinated for COVID. 

A recruitment drive is now underway to find more carers

They've now launched a recruitment drive to find special people looking for a change of career. They hope the pandemic might have spurred some people to re-evaluate what is important to them.

"We want to attract candidates with the right motivation.

"They don't have to have the skills. We can train those skills.

"But if you feel that the pandemic, for example, has led you to examine your life and think, maybe I'd like to do something more meaningful with my career, we have some fantastic opportunities."

For more information contact Rose Road