Karen Rowley, Short Break Local Offer Coordinator, SPACE Hertfordshire

Karen Rowley led us through an informal online workshop to explain a bit more about Hertfordshire’s Short Break Local Offer (SBLO), how to apply for it, how to use it, and some information about SPACE’s specific SBLO offer.

SPACE became an SBLO provider in March 2020 and since then the team have had lots of enquiries from families wanting to understand more about how SBLO funding can help them and their children or young people.

SBLO is part of the Herts County Council (HCC) SEND 0-25 Local Offer.

SBLO is designed to help children and young people with SEND to have access to the same kinds of extracurricular and social opportunities as their mainstream peers. It is also intended to give families a short break, secure in the knowledge that their children are supported by trained workers.

To qualify for the HCC SBLO offer Karen explained you need to:

  • Live in Herts
  • Be 5-18 years old (up to 19th birthday) with SEND
  • Receive a middle of higher rate disability living allowance (DLA) or any personal independence payment (PIP), or
  • Have a letter from a professional confirming that your needs mean you require access to targeted services for SEND children and young people.

Karen stressed this last point as it’s really important to note that a diagnosis isn’t necessary and the letter can come from any professional working with your child. So it could be your school SENCO, a Speech and Language Therapist, the community paediatrician, GP, Occupational Therapist etc.

When you apply for SBLO you will find a list of all approved SBLO providers and a short summary about each of them. This summary will generally include amongst other things, who their activities and experiences are aimed at. So at SPACE, for example, we obviously design our activities specifically for autistic children and/or those with ADHD or other neurodiverse conditions and have workers who are trained to work with these children. Karen stressed that you don’t have to use SBLO with your nearest provider. Whilst you can only access Herts SBLO activities if you live in Herts you can access activities anywhere in Herts and to get to the most relevant for your children you may need to go outside of your local area – “have SEND, will travel!”. 

Once you have applied and are approved you will be eligible for 40 hours of SBLO per year (April-March) at a rate of £2 per hour. This means SBLO may not fully cover the cost of all activities but they will be subsidised. So for example, if an activity costs £6 for 2 hours then SBLO will contribute £4 and you will need to contribute the additional £2 to meet the total cost of £6.

If you selected SPACE as one of your providers, Karen will then be in touch (usually within 2 weeks) and will ask you to send your eligibility paperwork again (SPACE and other providers aren’t sent this by HCC). She will also send you a risk assessment form. This helps the team ensure that SPACE is the right SBLO provider for your child – everyone wants yours and your children and young people’s experience to be a positive one! The form will ask for information about things such as fears, anxieties, triggers, signs your child isn’t coping, de-escalation strategies etc – the more we know the better we will be able to support.

Karen said that the ultimate goal is for your children to be able to comfortably and confidently access SPACE’s SBLO activities independently. However in some cases SPACE may require the parent/carer to stay with the child if they are especially young or need help with personal or medical care for example. This will of course all be discussed with you.

Once approved on SPACE’s SBLO register you will be able to attend our SBLO activities. Examples of SBLO activities include driving experiences, animal encounters, aerial gymnastics, paddlesports and karate. When an activity becomes available you will be sent an email with a link to book your place. 

One of the attendees asked if non-SBLO siblings were able to attend SBLO events and Karen explained that SPACE SBLO events are just for our SBLO children. However, sometimes SPACE runs activities, such as paddlesports, where SBLO and non-SBLO events are running side-by-side. In those instances you would need to book separate SBLO and non-SBLO places.

When SBLO hours are used these are logged onto the SBLO website. Karen noted that you can’t carry hours over so you need to either use your 40 hours every year or lose them. You also need to reapply for SBLO every year, it isn’t automatically done for you.

Another attendee asked about SPACE’s non-SBLO activities and Karen confirmed that if you have SBLO with SPACE you are not restricted to just booking our SBLO activities. You can continue to book for all our events and activities but they won’t come out of your SBLO hours, the cost won’t be subsidised and you will have full parental responsibility for those activities. 

Demand for all our activities – SBLO and non-SBLO – always out strips supply so please bear that in mind when booking. But we are always looking to add to the experiences we offer so as always, watch this SPACE!

Karen and the team closed by reminding attendees that everyone who works for SPACE is a parent carer, we have all been there, seen it and worn the proverbial T-shirt, in fact we are still wearing it! We want nothing more than for your children to feel safe and comfortable at our activities and for you to feel assured that you are leaving them in safe, nurturing and compassionate hands.

So what are you waiting for? You can apply for SBLO here.