Giving children a short break is the best thing Ann ever did

Published: Thursday 7 April 2022

Short Breaks carer Ann Hartman with her certificate on retiral.

Do you think you could help vulnerable young people by offering a short break?

We are looking for more people to add to the dedicated carers who provide this service.

In this special series, we take a look at how providing short breaks can be a lifeline for young people – and so rewarding for those providing the care.

“I love doing this so much that if I could physically do it forever, I would.”

So says short-breaks carer Ann Hartman as she prepares for retirement and looks back over her time helping families and remembers the children that have become a part of her life.

Not that Ann will have any trouble remembering them – the bond that was formed means that most of them remain in touch with her, still.

“It’s like having an extra family,” said Ann, from Blantyre. “I receive birthday cards and Christmas cards, and even go for afternoon tea on Saturdays with one of them. It’s a wonderful bond to have and a great feeling that I’ve helped enough that they want to keep in contact.”

Now 66, Ann divorced at an early age and was a childminder in her day job. She later had 15 happy years with her second partner before cancer took him from her and, looking for something to fill her time, she trained for three years in complementary therapies.

She said: “I liked what I had learnt, but I just had this nagging feeling that there was something else I should be doing. In the past, when my daughters had grown up and got married, I had seen an advert in the Hamilton Advertiser for shared care and had cut it out and stuck it on the ’fridge but hadn’t done anything about it. When I mentioned I was feeling I could be doing something else, one of my daughters looked at this advert, which was yellow by now, and suggested I do something about it.

“I did, and it was the best decision I have ever made in my life.”

The Short Breaks service offers crucial support to children and their families who find themselves in a variety of difficult or challenging circumstances, helping those such as grandparents who have become full time kinship carers for their grandchildren, parents who care for children with additional needs and might need a break, or single parents with young children, who have no family or community supports. 

Social workers support the families, recognising the pressure they may be under, and Short Breaks carers provide a minimum of one weekend a month caring for a child.

The children are carefully matched with the carer, who will look after the same child or children on a regular basis, and carers and children have the opportunity to build strong, and sometimes lifelong, relationships.

After undergoing her training as a carer, Ann was asked if she would consider taking on children with additional needs.

She said: “I was a bit nervous at the thought, because it wasn’t something I was used to and I didn’t want to let the children down. Even though I was used to dealing with children through the childminding, this was a different prospect and there is always the fear in the beginning where you think: ‘What if what I’m doing isn’t right for the child?’

“But I learnt quickly, and what I always tell other people who are starting out in it is to listen to the parents, listen to the social workers and listen to the child. Once you get to know them as a person, you are fine. You meet each child gradually and you get used to each other over weeks, and of course you have wonderful support from your social worker all through your time doing this.

“Kids with special needs are easy to please – all they want is you. I have a PlayStation and an Xbox but they hardly get used – I teach them dominoes, draughts and cards and they are happier doing that or playing something like snakes and ladders.

“I’ve had eight children over the 15 years and all of them have had additional needs, such as autism, foetal alcohol syndrome or global development delay, and all of them have been wonderful. I’ve had them for all different periods of time, but I had my first boy from the age of 10 to 18, at which point he went into the adult care system. Another boy left in October after eight-and-a-half years and the boy I’ve got now is turning 18 and I’ve had him since he was four.

“If my health would let me, I wouldn’t be stopping but with my latest boy moving on to adult care, it made sense to retire from it now. We are having a special meal on his last Saturday and I’m invited to his 18th birthday party the next weekend, so it’ll be a good way to finish, but I’ll still have a tear or two and I’ll miss it terribly.

“Of course it can have its difficult times but I’ve loved every minute of it and my only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier in life so I could have done it for longer. If anyone is considering it, go for it and don’t waste a minute – it was the best thing I ever did and it could be for you, too.”

Soumen Sengupta, Director of Health and Social Care, said: “The Short Breaks service is hugely valuable in the support it can bring to vulnerable young people and their families, and it is wholly reliant on the carers who do such an amazing job.

“Ann is a perfect example of not only the sort of person who is perfect for this role, in that she looks to understand and care about – and not just for – the children who are matched to her. She has striven to keep learning, no matter how much experience she has, because she just wants to do the best she can for every child that comes into her care, and that is a great lesson for all of us.

“I know she has helped other carers new to this service and is very keen to let everyone know how great the experience is for the carer as well as the children, and I also know that she will be greatly missed by us – but she has certainly earned a very happy retirement, and I wish it for her.”

Further information on the Short Breaks service and the application process can be found on the council website.