Single mum's dismay at Grove Cottage's children's service change
A single mum-of-two who relies on sending her disabled four-year-old son to Grove Cottage's Saturday and holiday clubs so she can spend quality time with his older brother has expressed her dismay at the charity's decision to axe the service for under-fives.
Lydia Hodgkins will no longer be able to send younger son Connor, who has Down syndrome and other complex medical needs, from January after the Mencap charity took the decision to raise the lower age limit for its ‘Small Play’ sessions from two to five.
However, she fears the decision will have the greatest impact on her elder son Cameron, who turns eight on Saturday (Nov 24), and who she says has already had to sacrifice so much in his young life while his mother’s time and attention are focused on Connor.
Lydia, a former pharmacy technician, lives with Cameron, a Year 3 pupil at Manor Fields Primary, and Connor, who is in reception at Amwell View School in Stanstead Abbotts, in Alconbury on the Parsonage estate.
She said that the clubs are invaluable for parents of under-fives who might be in desperate need of a few hours respite, or, like her, want to spend time doing “normal childhood things” with their other offspring while their brothers or sisters are well cared for by people with the right training and resources to meet their needs.
As a mum with two very different children, there's just no way I can divide myself between them equally, and if our 'Mummy and Cameron' days stop then it's Cameron who's going to suffer the most.
“Last year, Connor was in hospital for nine months and Cameron had to move in with my mum,” said Lydia. “I missed Hallowe’en, all of Cameron’s Christmas plays and really the whole build-up to Christmas.
“If I can no longer send Connor to these clubs when he’s at home and well enough to attend, then I’ll have even less time to spend with Cameron, and although he’s always brilliant and so understanding, it’s not fair on him. I feel like I’m constantly letting him down and that breaks my heart.”
She added: “Cameron loves his brother, but I worry he’ll start to resent him because Connor needs 24-hour attention and it’s impossible to give Cameron the time and attention that he also deserves.
“He didn’t choose to have a sick brother, so why should he be forced to miss out on being a normal child and enjoying all the things that his friends get to do with their mums and dads, like seeing the fireworks or going trick or treating?
“This is why these clubs are so vital, especially for the siblings who otherwise miss out on so much. As a mum with two very different children, there’s just no way I can divide myself between them equally, and if our ‘Mummy and Cameron’ days stop then it’s Cameron who’s going to suffer the most.
“Connor doesn’t turn five until May, which means we’ve got February half term and the two-week Easter holidays to struggle through before he can start attending again.
“As a family, it really leaves us in such a hard situation and it’s Cameron who I feel most sorry for.”
In response, Grove Cottage treasurer Richard Smith told the Independent that the decision to withdraw the service for under-fives was not “a deliberate policy to exclude people” but reflected demand from that age group.
We have to make some really hard decisions sometimes and it's heartbreaking to be having this conversation as it goes against the whole ethos of what we're trying to do at Grove Cottage
The challenge of planning enriching and appropriate activities for members who currently range in age from two to 12 was also a factor, he said.
“We do appreciate the impact this will have on the small number of families with under-fives who are registered to attend, however this will only be in the short term as of the four children registered, three will turn five in the first half of the year,” he said.
“That’s not to say we don’t completely understand the respite needs of families – it’s the reason why the clubs exist in the first place – but we do have to look at where demand is greatest and allocate our resources accordingly within the constraints of the centre.
“That does mean we have to make some really hard decisions sometimes and it’s heartbreaking to be having this conversation as it goes against the whole ethos of what we are trying to do at Grove Cottage.”
The decision to stop attendance for under-fives follows a recent price hike that has seen the cost of holiday club fees increase from £25 to £36 a day.
The charity has told Lydia that in the past the holiday clubs have been subsidised through grants. However, in line with other charitable causes, it is now struggling to secure this type of funding.