PARENTS have accused Essex County Council of hiding information which would reveal how reliant families are on respite care.

Founding members of Save our Respite Essex have criticised evidence provided by County Hall which maintained families’ allocations can be met with one four-bed flat at both Lavender House and the Maples, in Harlow.

Respite care analysis obtained from a Freedom of Information request shows a decrease in the recorded number of children accessing in-house provision, and the number of nights allocated each month.

But the outspoken campaign group said they want raw numbers and for the council to be honest about the number of referrals which have been declined.

Founding member Gary Knowles said: “The numbers are dropping because some children have moved on to other places but referrals to Lavender House were temporarily stopped as of January, so the figures are obviously going to fall.

“Also, how many families are attempting to get referrals through a special educational needs assessment and review panel but are being turned down?

“The county council has been winding down the centre for some time but won’t admit it. It doesn’t want everyone to know just how much demand there is for this service.”

The parents have promised a noisier protest outside County Hall in a bid for the council to reverse its latest cut. They want eight beds again at the centre.

However, the authority said Lavender House is just one of the options available for overnight respite and 12 new referrals for overnight respite care packages have been received since December.

Gary’s wife Fay alongside Lorraine Woodhouse, whose son Aiden, 13, has severe autism and developmental delay, feel their children are being treated as “numbers rather than human beings”.

Alternatives being proposed to families are shared care, which could see vulnerable children looked after by carers, or direct payments to help fund a nurse to assist in the home.

“What happens if there’s a medical emergency or that foster carer falls ill and our child is stuck in the care of that person?” Ms Woodhouse added.

A spokesman for Essex County Council said: “We recognise just how vital this type of care is for the young person and their family.

“But it’s not the case a young person assessed by a social worker as requiring overnight respite care will need to attend these homes.

“It may be that their needs can be met appropriately through other provision.”