How to plan a holiday for your service users | QCS

How to plan a holiday for your service users

Dementia Care
July 27, 2021

The following article was first published in The Carer, issue 62

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When the marketing team approached me to write an article on supported holidays, naturally I jumped at the chance. But it was only when I sat down to write the piece that I began to realise the enormity of the task that I was faced with. In a time of COVID, how do you write a meaningful and helpful guide to holidays in a thousand words when the wants, needs and capabilities of service users are so vastly different? What is right for one person may not be right for another. The key point, therefore, is always to take a person-centred approach. The best services know what drives, excites and inspires the people they support, and budget permitting, they will do their level best to give them their dream break.

That said, having accumulated nearly two decades of experience in accompanying and supporting service users on holiday, managing expectations within person-centred framework is crucial. So too is care planning. QCS, the leading provider of content, policies and standards, has created several policies including supporting independence with holidays, Social life stories, policies regarding Accessible information standards and Care and Risk Assessment planning documents.

When considering the options, it’s absolutely imperative that you involve the service user. After all, it’s their holiday, not yours. In discussing options, I would recommend taking a look at a ‘Rough Guide to Accessible Britain’, which is published by ‘Motability’, the leading car scheme for disabled people.

First steps

After establishing the basics – such as where they want to go, what do they want to do and how long they want to be away from home, the next step would to discuss the level of the support they would need with a senior manager to enable the service user to really get the most out of their holiday. The mind-set should be one of never accepting “no”, but instead always asking “How”.

Take a person with complex needs, who requires round the clock supervision, for instance. They may need two members of staff to accompany them on their break. Imagine, for example, that you are supporting a person with a brain injury, who has a severe form of epilepsy. It might be that that person needs to be monitored throughout the night. Therefore, you need to budget for two members of staff to provide support.

Of course, the sad reality is that the more support that a person requires, often the more expensive the break. I think that this is where outstanding planning and diligent research comes into its own, however. If the person you are supporting has brain injury or is autistic, there are often grants that can be applied for. Secondly, if you know where to look, there are some wonderful discounts available that can massively reduce the cost of a break. When I used to accompany service users on holiday, for instance, the support team found the Sun newspaper’s £9.50 holiday offer to be a godsend. Okay – while we rarely got a break for a tenner, collecting the vouchers each day, enabled a service user to enjoy a holiday at a UK Holiday Park at a hugely subsidised rate.

Location and distance

That said, with the world still gripped by COVID, it is likely that long-haul holidays won’t become a possibility for service users for some time. Even if they do, most people – particularly those with complex needs – prefer will look to holiday in the UK. For disabled people and those with learning disabilities, autism, and dementia, location and distance are very important factors to consider. How far away is the hotel or holiday park, for example? What time of year is best to go? For instance, a person with learning disabilities may be extremely uncomfortable in crowds or around children. So, it may be best to schedule the break outside of the school holidays.


Another obstacle is planning the route. As anyone who supports disabled people will know, it can be challenging to find service stations en-route that meet their needs. However, the ‘Changing Places’ website contains a comprehensive list of accessible amenities.

Secondly, whatever the destination, care workers should always carry an emergency grab bag, a communication passport and a hospital traffic light document.

Managing expectations, over-excitement and anxiety

There’s also the question of when you tell a service user where and when they are going. Earlier in the piece, I wrote that service users should be heavily involved in the planning stage wherever possible. However, there is always an exception to the rule, and it does not mean that in not involving the you are being any less person-centred in your approach. Take a person with severe learning disabilities who is fascinated with animals. If you were to tell him or her that you are scheduling a trip to London Zoo or Longleat Safari Park in a fortnight’s time, they may not be able to think about anything else and they could become very anxious.

Equally, on the flipside, there are some service users, who not only need to be heavily involved in the planning process, but need to be suitably mentally prepared to go somewhere different that breaks their routine. Take an autistic person for example. They are likely to much more comfortable if they know what they will be doing each day. The Autism Friendly Caravan is one such company that really understands the sometime complex and varying needs that an autistic person might have, due to the fact that the owner’s son is autistic. They understand the inherent value of picture book and story books, for instance, to prepare a person for a caravan holiday. Whenever I accompanied people with learning disabilities or autism on holidays – whether they were hotel or caravan based – I would call the manager and ask them to send me photos of the grounds, of the room that the person would be staying in and the communal areas. I would then make a story book and show it to the person every day up until the holiday. That I found was the best way to mentally prepare a person for a change of schedule.

Finally, it’s important to recognise the fact that not everyone wants to go on a holiday. Some service users want to sleep in their own bed every night. Sometimes, carefully selecting several day trips over the course of a week or a fortnight might prove to be the best option.

Whatever you and your service users decide to do this summer, from everyone at QCS, have fun!


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