When Alan Netherclift and his family started respite care a few years ago, it changed their lives.
- For families who have children with autism, accessing respite care can be difficult due to high demand
- Mansfield Autism Statewide Services says some families cannot even get a place on a waitlist for respite
- The organisation is building a therapeutic care farm, which will include cabins so families can take a holiday while being supported by staff
Mr Netherclift's 10-year-old son Perry was diagnosed with autism at a young age.
"It gives us a chance to break water and take a breath so we can keep swimming," Mr Netherclift said.
"I think a lot of people underestimate how important it is."
The family accessed planned respite care through the Mansfield Autism Statewide Service, a not-for-profit organisation that supports children with autism and their families across Victoria.
Mr Netherclift said it gave them a chance to spend time with their daughter while Perry was supported by staff who understood the needs of children with autism.
"It's almost like full-time therapy for him, they give him the routine that he really needs as well as helping him develop with his eating and his routines and his self-care," he said.
He said his family had been lucky to have regular planned respite, with many other families across the state on waitlists.
Mansfield Autism Statewide Service chief executive Simone Reeves said respite was crucial for families and there was significant demand for quality care in Victoria.
"For autistic children to come to respite they really need an autism-friendly environment with best practice strategies so they can relax and enjoy themselves," she said.
"Otherwise, we'd just be adding some trauma and anxiety to them if we actually don't understand what their individual needs are."
Ms Reeves said many families contacted the organisation and said they could not even get on waitlists for respite care.
She said without planned respite, families could end up needing crisis care.
"We know that when families know that they have planned respite, it really helps get them through the year when they know that they can have a break," she said.
The service is building what it says will be a game-changer for children with autism and their families — a therapeutic care farm on the outskirts of Mansfield.
It will feature family cabins that will be used for respite, as well as a new school campus and accommodation for term placement students.
A break for kids and parents
Currently, the service offers up to 860 respite nights a year to families across the state. It estimates once the farm project is complete, it could offer more than 4,000.
"It'll be no more waitlists for us, hopefully ... when families really need a break and when they want a break, we can provide it for them," Ms Reeves said.
Mr Netherclift said for Perry, who loves swimming, jumping on a trampoline, and being out in nature, the farm would offer a great holiday where he could be supported.
"It's so calming, having a lack of distraction and so much nature around, it's really really good for him," he said.