Fresh fears about closure of day centres

Fresh fears about the closure of day centres for people with learning difficulties have been voiced after parents received letters encouraging the centre users to seek paid and voluntary work.

Fresh fears about the closure of day centres for people with learning difficulties have been voiced after parents received letters encouraging the centre users to seek paid and voluntary work.

Parents are worried their grown-up children, many of who have Down's Syndrome, are not up to working in the "real world" and believe this new move may be part of a long-term plan to reduce the need for the centres and shut them down.

Parents have been fearing the worst for the centres since Autumn 2005 when social services unveiled plans to help adults with physical or learning difficulties spend more time on activities in the community.

In March social service chiefs maintained the centres in King's Lynn, Dereham, Attleborough, Holt, Norwich, Sprowston and Yarmouth would remain open.

But, after receiving the letter from Norfolk County Council outlining how people with learning difficulties can do voluntary work, paid employment and work experience, Barbara Clark is convinced it is part of a long-term plan to "strangle" the centres.

Mrs Clark, 69, from Stalham, has a 38-year-old son Phil, who has Down's Syndrome and goes to the Holt Day Centre.

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She said: "It seems they are expecting everyone to get a job or volunteer work. 95pc of our sons and daughters could not possibly take regular employment. They could not cope with it.

"And when they get a job how are they going to be treated? Employers will get frustrated with them. It is an absolute minefield."

She added: "I know Phil would be completely devastated if he could not go to the centre. They all love going there to meet their friends."

Jenny Lawes, 60 and from Sheringham, has a 35-year-old son Mark Howard, 35, who has Down's Syndrome and goes to the Holt centre.

She said: "We just want to know that the centre is safe because it is very important to everyone.

"Psychologically a lot of these people are not equipped to go out to work. Their concentration is very short and they do not cope well in the 'real world.'"

Chris Humphris, assistant director (learning difficulties) for adult social services said: "I would like to apologise that the letter we sent out to parents of people with learning difficulties appears to have caused some confusion.

"The letter was sent out to parents to clarify the type of work that people with learning difficulties are able to do such as voluntary, work experience or paid work. We do work with people with learning difficulties to help them find employment if they are able to work and wish to do so. However, we recognise that for some people this may not be the case.

"We also recognise our day centres offer a valuable service for people with learning difficulties and their parent carers and we have no plans to close them."

A meeting is being held at Holt Day Centre on Friday, February 2 at 10.30am. Any parent carers in the area can attend.