Trust Launches Children’s Disability Fostering Service providing Short Breaks for Families in Need

12th December 2023

Lisburn’s Civic Centre provided the backdrop on Friday as the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust’s Disability Service launched a new Children’s Disability Fostering Project.

With a significant number of families who would currently benefit from a short break, this service will provide essential support to those caring for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities often require additional care and support and this new service will connect Foster Carers who can provide short breaks to families who need it most.

This new service is designed to offer short breaks to children with severe disabilities and will provide their parents with valuable time for themselves, while ensuring their children receive care and support in a nurturing environment.

With over 30 years’ experience as Foster Carers, Gerard and Marion Lennon have welcomed countless children and young people to their Downpatrick home and have been providing weekend short breaks for a family within the Trust since their daughter, who is now three, was four months old. The Downpatrick couple explained how this gives “mum and dad a chance to recharge their batteries once a month and when she (the child) comes to the house, well she just runs in as if she hasn’t left.”

“Once a month we welcome this child and she is just a typical three-year-old with additional needs, she very much knows her own mind.”

Marion stressed the importance of forging “good relationships with parents, it is vital as you are part of a bigger jigsaw. By becoming a foster carer you are able to give a family that time to get stronger, parents are placed in the centre.

Gerard said he would encourage those who may be thinking of becoming a foster carer to a child with a learning difficulty or disability to “go do it and try, dip your foot in the water. I would say try the short breaks care. Each child is unique, if the thought is there with people, then definitely give it a go. Don’t be fearful as there is plenty of support and the team are only a telephone call away.”

Parents Clifford and Natasha who avail of short breaks with the foster carers said it “gives us time for ourselves.” “If you don’t take care of yourself you’ll not be able to care for others.”

“We get to spend time together as a couple and do normal things which are sometimes hard to do.”

Speaking at the launch of the service, Head of Children’s Disability Services, Lorraine Noade said, “Foster carers do a fantastic job and it’s because of that that we feel it’s important to develop this project. The focus of the service is two-fold, in that firstly it is to continue to develop over-night short breaks fostering for children with disabilities and the second is to try and identify specific placements for the small number of children that we have who can’t live at home. This is a really important project as it’s very much based on feedback and consultation with our parents.”

Lorraine explained how the over-night short break aspect of the project will be of huge benefit to those parents caring for a child with disabilities and/or complex health needs. “Our parents have been very clear in that they feel that there is a real need to develop overnight short breaks with foster carer’s and they can really see how beneficial it would be to them. Their children have severe disabilities and/or complex health needs, and can often have a disruptive sleep pattern, some of the things we take for granted such as an interrupted night’s sleep can be a real challenge for our parents and for many a rare occurrence. With an overnight short break with foster carers they will get to know, it gives the parent a chance to develop really positive relationships with another family so that they feel confident the foster carers can look after their precious children and give them the break they require.

“The children that we work with do have severe disabilities or can have very complex health needs, they are amazing children with their own personalities, likes and dislikes. When our team is speaking with the parents or the carers, when they talk about the children, they talk about them with great joy, there is such a passion for them because they are each so wonderful. I think for any person who is considering becoming a foster carer as part of this service they need to hear that message, a child with a disability is nothing to be afraid of, they are children first and yes they do have additional needs and are to be embraced.”

If you are interested in providing a family with short break care or for further information  on the service, telephone 0800 0720 137 or visit