Accommodation for Children with Cerebral Palsy

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Accommodation for Children with Cerebral Palsy

When considering how to support a child with cerebral palsy, providing them with suitable living accommodation should be one of the top priorities. Cerebral palsy is a condition that is associated with a wide range of specialist care requirements, and it is therefore essential that the child in question is able to receive the treatment and support they need at home.

These requirements might vary depending on the severity of their cerebral palsy, but in most cases the child's disability will have some impact in their day-to-day living. Making the necessary adjustments in the home will have a significant positive impact on your child's development, providing them with full access to their own home and minimising the potential risk of injury and maximising their potential development.

In this blog post, JMW clinical negligence partner Angharad Hughes, who specialises in helping children who have cerebral palsy due to medical errors, examines how parents of children with cerebral palsy should be looking to adapt their homes to safeguard their child's health, as well as looking at the various avenues for support that may be available to them.

Why do families with children with cerebral palsy need adapted accommodation?

Cerebral palsy presents itself in a wide range of ways. Some children with cerebral palsy will be reliant on a wheelchair for all aspects of their mobility, while others will use walking aids or specialist equipment to get around. As such, if their home has stairs, this can mean they are prevented from safely accessing parts of the house. It may also impact their access into their home or their garden - for example, if there are steps or other uneven surfaces on the way in or out. This means a child cannot interact fully with the family and enjoy and access all parts of their home without suitable adaptations.

Even children who do not rely on a wheelchair or walking aids may struggle to manage stairs without support; in turn, this limits their ability to safely and independently access parts of their own home. This can stop them from easily accessing their bedrooms, bathrooms or other communal areas. It can also be an incredibly isolating experience, which will affect their mental health and the child's ability to live a fulfilling life. 

Standard sized doorways can be a huge barrier to the independence and freedom of a child with physical disabilities due to cerebral palsy. They can also pose a safety hazard and create an increased risk of the child having an accident as they try to manoeuvre through them. 

Children with cerebral palsy can struggle with standard kitchen and bathrooms, making it very difficult for them to use washing and cooking facilities as they get older, with the impact being felt on the whole family. 

Families of children with cerebral palsy have an increased need for storage for equipment used in their child's care, as well as carer facilities should this be required. 

Children with cerebral palsy can also benefit enormously from technology and therapy that can improve their quality of life and ease their symptoms. Often, the best case scenario will be to be able to provide this for them in their own home.

What options are available if the family home is unsuitable?

No family can know that they will have a child who will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy before they buy their family home. This means that the vast majority will find that their home is unsuitable for a child with additional needs and disabilities when that situation arises.  This can be because the rooms are too small, too few or laid out in a way that is impractical for the chid. 

When we are handling medical negligence cases on behalf of families affected by cerebral palsy, we will often look into alternative property to meet a child’s needs if their current family home is not fit for purpose. When a cerebral palsy case is successful, and we know that significant compensation will be paid, the family's long-term needs will usually be met via a purchase and adaptation of a suitable property, chosen with the guidance and support of an accommodation expert and occupational therapy expert. It may also be possible to rent a property during a case while a long-term property is considered, and a purchase and adaptations progressed.

For many children with cerebral palsy, single storey accommodation, such as a bungalow, is the most appropriate option for their safety, security and independence. However, in some circumstances it may be an option for the family to live in a house with more than one storey, provided that all of the child’s needs and family life can accommodated on the ground floor. The key priority should always be to make sure that each child’s needs and potential properties are looked at on a bespoke, individual basis.

Securing a suitable property is a huge milestone but this is not the end of the story as it will still need to be adapted so that it provides the optimum living space for a child with cerebral palsy. 

Who is available to help find suitable accommodation for children with cerebral palsy?

When looking for accommodation that is suitable for children with cerebral palsy, it is best to get as much support from as many knowledgeable people as possible. In our experience of helping families to find a new place to live, this means starting with the family's own preferences and insights; we will usually be guided by the family as to the appropriate area to look for a suitable property, as they will know the area where they will have ties to family support and friendship groups, and be familiar with the local schools and healthcare facilities.

As part of a case, we would then seek expert advice as to the type and cost of property that would be most suitable for the family and seek a suitability report when a particular property is identified, as well as confer with occupational therapists and physiotherapists involved in the child's care to get their opinions on access and suitability. If the search proves particularly complex, or the availability of property in the chosen area is very limited, it may also be possible to instruct a professional property finder to look for a suitable property.

How can a compensation claim help pay for adapted accommodation for people with cerebral palsy?

A compensation claim for cerebral palsy goes beyond covering the child's immediate medical needs, playing a pivotal role in financing a living environment that supports their long-term requirements. A significant portion of the compensation settlement may be used to cover the cost of acquiring a suitable property, and the necessary modifications to make it accessible, including installing ramps, redesigning the layout of the property and renovating kitchens and bathrooms for accessibility, and ensuring the property is equipped to accommodate equipment, therapy and sensory rooms, and also has accommodation for a care/support worker team.

An accommodation expert will often, for example, recommend specialised kitchens with lowered work surfaces and access to ovens/equipment so that the child can engage with cooking, if appropriate, as they get older. Additionally, bathrooms will need to be adapted with consideration of wet room facilities, adapted showers and baths, and modified toileting facilities. This can mean the room needs to be larger and adapted to accommodate this equipment.

As mentioned above, standard doorway sizes are problematic, however we can ensure the cost of widening doorways with adaptations is covered in the compensation alongside all adaptations.

If the experts we instruct in the case consider that the chid would benefit from being able to access therapy, such as physiotherapy, at home we can seek to factor facilities for this to be provided at home into the claim. It may also be possible to claim for special facilities such as sensory rooms or hydrotherapy pools, if these would help the child’s quality of life and development. 

Whilst one in four children go on to be diagnosed with cerebral palsy after their birth, not every case is as a result of medical negligence. Some are due to other factors that could not be prevented. Whilst these children are unable to claim compensation to cover the cost of the specialist accommodation they require, they are entitled to government help. A Disabled Facilities Grant can be applied for by the child’s family so that home adaptations can be made, providing a safer and more accessible living environment. 

Beyond the physical adaptations, the claim also accounts for the ongoing maintenance and additional running costs of what is often a larger property, ensuring the home remains a supportive and suitable space in the long term. With the expertise of the Court of Protection team at JMW, families receive guidance in property selection and adaptation, ensuring every modification aligns with the child's unique needs. The process involves working with specialists in adapted accommodation and project management professionals, guaranteeing that the adaptations are not only the right ones, but also that they are put in place properly.

Alongside the purchase of a property, additional short-term rental costs of properties and any short-term adaptations would be included in a clinical negligence case.

We seek to recover moving costs, as well as the expense of locating a suitable property and any additional furnishing costs. We include the increased cost of maintaining and running a larger property should that be relevant - for example, a higher council tax bill, insurance and utilities – and would factor this in to the final compensation settlement that is awarded in successful cases. 

In these ways, a successful compensation claim can play an instrumental role in making sure the child’s living space is properly tailored to enhance the independence, safety and quality of life for a child with cerebral palsy, both now and for the rest of the child's life.

Case study: how adapted accommodation helped the family of a child with cerebral palsy

JMW assisted the family of a child, Graham, who was catastrophically brain damaged after a hospital doctor who examined him failed to realise he was seriously unwell after he was born. Graham did not receive the treatment he urgently needed because of the doctor’s error, which was made despite clear warning signs that he was in danger.

Graham, now 12, was left with severe physical and mental disabilities and will be dependent on others for the rest of his life. He is confined to a wheelchair and needs 24-hour care and regular therapy to address some of the physical pain he suffers due to his injuries.

As such, one of the top priorities for Graham’s parents, and the medical experts involved in his case, was to ensure he had appropriate accommodation. After we successfully obtained Graham an interim payment of compensation, his parents were able to purchase him a large bungalow that was adapted to his needs, enabling him to manoeuvre around it easily in his electric wheelchair.

The bathrooms and bedrooms were adapted to enable his parents and carers to get him in and out of the bath or bed safely and securely. They were also able to put in place a sensory room that helps Graham to obtain and engage with lights and sounds in a safe environment. In addition, the bungalow has a good-size pool that allows Graham to exercise safely with the help of his carers and is another source of regular therapy to assist on a regular basis.

After previously being in a house that was completely unsuitable for a disabled person, Graham’s family truly feels that having the right accommodation has changed all of their lives, but particularly Graham’s. While life will always be very difficult for him and his condition will never improve, he is receiving the care he needs to be comfortable, and his family is equipped with the essentials they need to provide this for him. 

Find out more

For more information about cerebral palsy and accommodations, visit our Cerebral Palsy Hub. If you want to know more about potentially make a claim for compensation on behalf of a family member with cerebral palsy, visit our cerebral palsy claims page, or give us a call on 0345 872 6666.

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