We were awarded Direct payments for Matt late in 2007, when he was 13. Matt has a rare chromosome disorder resulting in significant learning difficulties. I needed someone to meet the school bus at home after school around 3.10pm four days a week, and stay with him until my husband or I got in from work around 5pm.
At first I was quite worried about who on earth would want to work these hours, particularly because where I live is not the easiest place to get to! In a flash of inspiration I decided to write to the local sixth forms and ask if they would put a poster up to advertise the position. I addressed my letter to the head of the social care courses, in the hope we would attract a young person who had an interest in working with children with disabilities.
One head of year was particularly helpful. She handed round the posters in her social care lessons and 8 young people contact me for an application form. I was advertising for an After School Carer/PA – the main duties including meeting the school bus, getting him a drink and a snack, helping with any homework, encouraging independence by visiting local shops, library etc. In the end we settled on two lovely young women – one had aspirations to be a midwife and the other a teacher.
Of course the down side of employing students is that they move on. Both the successful applicants had been in the upper sixth form, so both left us for university the following September. I liaised again with the head of year and she advised me to widen the circulation of the advert out to the whole sixth form, which I did. This time I was lucky to find a young man with plans to go on to teaching and a young woman who wanted to be a nurse. As Matt grew older, I changed the wording of the job description to After School Carer/Befriender.
For Matt it is like a friend coming round. They might go to the park to kick a ball around, go to the local shops, play a board game or watch a film together. I pay £7 an hour, which compares very favourably with agency rates at £15+ an hour but equally is quite a good hourly rate for a student. It enables me to get slightly more hours for my money – and as we only receive 4 hours a week direct payments this is important.
When you employ a carer via Direct Payments, you receive support in how to set up with HMRC as an employer, and you can also have CRB checks done on any carers you employ. Anyone employing someone to work in their home needs to take out employer liability insurance which covers if the carer has an accident in the home, or while out with your child.
All in all it has been a very positive experience for ourselves as parents, for Matt and also for the carers who have worked with him.
NB: Direct Payments are a way of receiving a specialist service from the local authority. To receive them you must have been assessed and meet the criteria for a specialist service from the children with disabilities team.
Student Carers– By Carol Dixon