Whitehaven Respite Unit celebrates special birthday

Whitehaven respite unit has just celebrated a very special birthday. Opened in May 1992, the facility has been providing a high level of care and support for severely disabled children and their families for twenty years.

Whitehaven in the picturesque seaside village of Whitehead was not designed as a purpose-built, special care unit. Despite this, the services devised and developed in Whitehaven have undoubtedly changed the lives of people with severe learning disabilities. Whitehaven has led the way in developing good practices and has specialised in caring for children with autism.

Respite care for people with a severe learning disability is essential for parents and families, providing them with anything from weekend break to longer family holidays. The Whitehaven approach has done much to encourage and reassure parents that it is important for them to take a break from the difficult job of caring, safe in the knowledge that their children are protected and well looked-after.

The success of Whitehaven has been built on close partnerships developed with parents. Staff spend a lot of time reassuring families creating a positive atmosphere of trust and understanding. Many of these relationships have developed into friendships which have continued over the years.

An important part of the ethos of Whitehaven is encouraging the development of friendships among the children who use the service. During periods of respite many children see their stays in Whitehaven as ‘sleepovers’ with their friends. This undoubtedly helps reassure those parents who may be anxious about leaving their children in the care of others.

The unit has also developed processes to help families through the difficult period of transition from childhood to adulthood and the anxieties around changing from one service to another. Staff in Whitehaven will work as liaison with adult services facilities, helping and supporting both children and their parents make the change as easy and as smooth as possible.

Lynne Hutchinson is the team leader at Whitehaven. She summed up the significance of the unit’s twentieth birthday.

“Twenty years is a major milestone in the life of any service. Clearly we have been doing something right and indeed important for the children and families who use this service to have continued for this long.

“Whitehaven is unique. Over the years we have worked with hundreds of children, each of whom has helped us to develop and refine an approach which today defines the high quality service we offer. I can honestly say that in the past 20 years Whitehaven has touched and changed the lives of many people. This has been the key to our success and we are very proud of it!

“Ultimately, we could not do what we do without the total commitment and flexibility of our dedicated staff. It takes a special person to work here and everyone who does is indeed just that. This year will be a very happy birthday for us all”.

The staff are a major asset in determining what Whitehaven is and the quality of services provided there. During the unit’s twenty year history there has been no significant turnover of staff. This constant and the fact that managers view staff development as a priority has ensured a consistency of service from one year to the next. Many staff who began as unqualified support workers have graduated to professional social workers, leading the way in developing caring techniques for children with complex care needs. These staff contribute to a confident and highly skilled team who recognise these needs and can provide individual support as necessary for those with a severe disability.

28th January 2013

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