PARENTS in West Cornwall have launched an emotional appeal to save threatened respite services for disabled children.
The children's short break respite homes at St Christopher's, Redruth, and Redwing, in Truro, give disabled children more social opportunities as well as giving parents a break. Both are now under threat.
The Save St Christopher's Redruth and Redwing Truro Respite Services petition was launched on Facebook last week and has already attracted more than 1,000 members.
Under proposals being put out for consultation, both homes could be closed by June.
Cornwall Council spent £5 million on respite breaks last year. The proposed cuts are an attempt to save £24 million as part of the council's draft budget.
The petition calls on council leaders to retain the services, which many families say provide vital support.
Petition organiser Simon Judge, whose son Gabriel has cerebral palsy and is autistic, says there are 37 families in the west of the county who use the centres.
"The centres provide a safe, short break for disabled children," he said. "For many of them it is the only point of socialisation and where they can be safely independent – the centres really do give the children confidence.
"At the same time, the parents can use the time their children are at the centre to recharge their batteries – looking after a child with a disability is a 24-hour a day job.
"To close these centres is another example where authorities are looking at cutting services for a vulnerable minority group."
One Penzance mother, who does not wish to be named, said she has been told that she might have to travel to Wadebridge or Launceston to access a similar centre.
"For many of us, the child's stay at one of these centres is the only time that they get to do something outside home and school," she said.
"It's an opportunity for them to get outside and go to the park with other children and be looked after safely."
And Jodie Debenham, writing on Facebook, said: "Why should children with severe disabilities and life-limiting illnesses have the one tiny piece of enjoyment ripped away from them just because the Government has overspent and needs to claw some of the wasted money back?"
Cornwall Council, which spends £10.5 million on services to support children with special needs and disabilities, said it had yet to confirm the future of the 20 staff at St Christopher's and the 18 at Lowenna Redwing.
In a statement, it said the council was reviewing its services because of Government cuts in funding forcing it to make a further £196 million of savings by 2019.
The proposals are set to go to the council's Cabinet in January.