Annie Armson lives in Bangor and has two children, one of whom, Fiona (22) has autism and severe learning difficulties.

We’re a small family, myself, my husband, Fiona and Fiona’s younger sister Alex who is at University in England. We have no close family relatives here except an elderly Aunt so this means that in terms of family support we have very little.  My husband works away a lot of the time as well so quite often it is me and Fiona on our own. 

Caring Breaks has made a huge difference to our family. In my experience, the children with Fiona’s background become more socially isolated the older they get.  Up until about the age of 8 or 9 kids without disabilities will play with those who have without a problem, but as they get older they start to drift away because they’ve become more aware of the differences in each other’s capabilities.

Gradually you find that the only friends they have are those with disabilities.  Fiona has got a good circle of friends who she’s met at school or playing sports with Special Olympics Clubs but in order to maintain this, you have to keep up contact with parents and organise the meetings.  We have to create these friendships so the parents of Fiona’s friends have become our friends too.  It’s a group where if we have a problem we can talk about how others have approached it and we gain a lot of strength by being able to talk to someone who shares the same experiences.

Its hard work, and can be a bit exhausting as it’s not the case that they can pick up a phone and say would you like to go to the cinema on Friday, that doesn’t happen without input from us.   You do really need a break from all of that.

This is where Caring Breaks is just absolutely amazing.  I can honestly say that everyone I have met has been very special.  They have tremendous patience and really listen to their clients.  We have had the service for about three years and have been very impressed.  It gives us a break, so quite often we will go out for a meal when Fiona is out.   

If we didn’t have this service I think it would be pretty miserable because Fiona would be a lot more anxious asking about ‘what am I going to do’; it would create a lot more pressure and make family life extremely difficult.

Without Caring Breaks Fiona would not be in such a good place, so I’m very grateful to be in the Caring Breaks circle but I do know friends who need the service desperately but can’t get it because of lack of funding.

Fiona likes to be occupied and you just wouldn’t have the energy to occupy her 24/7.  She gets quite down in the dumps if she is not getting out in company with other people so it has taken a lot of pressure off us in respect of every Friday you know Janet is coming for Fiona and that its been organised that she will go and do something that she enjoys.

Caring Breaks is very good at selecting as staff people who are clued in, who have a certain temperament and certain understanding about working with kids with disabilities.  With Caring Breaks I don’t have to manage or organise what she is going to do.  But with all other activities that she does I do have to organise them and I am physically taking her to them. 

It’s fantastic being able to rely on that service.  I would be absolutely terrified of it being taken away because of funding cuts - because we as parents rely on it and the kids rely on it. Many of my friends including myself feel that there are people making decisions about future service provision who don’t truly understand what our lives are like and how vital we consider these services to be, not just in terms of our kids having fun but in terms of our mental health because it can be very disheartening and depressing to be constantly worried is this going to be cut, is this or that service going to be here in the future. You’ll find that parents of kids in our situation have often had to fight for their kids every step of the way and they become exhausted.

In my view, Caring Breaks has proven to be a highly successful organization which has provided our family unit with exceptional assistance in coping with the situation we find ourselves in. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the value of this was recognised by those making funding decisions and more families were able to receive this incredible service?