ANGELS Teen TRANSITIONS Group
A story by COVEY Befriending
ANGELS supports disabled Lanarkshire teenagers to be safe, resilient & better equipped to reach their potential while giving their carers regular respite. Social exclusion is overcome through weekly group befriending. We build trusting relationships; improving confidence, well-being & social skills.
What ANGELS Teen TRANSITIONS Group did
Teenagers with additional support needs took part in this project and were identified & referred from outside agencies such as Social Work, Education, CAMHS and Down Syndrome Scotland. Participants attended weekly groups which ran on a Wednesday evening in a Church community centre in Hamilton. Activities which the young people were involved in included Harry Potter Night, Gardening, Celebrate Your Pet Night, Board Games, Take Away & Chill, Graffiti Art, ‘Covey’s Got Talent’, Fitness, a Quiz Night, Games Night, Friendship Night, Your Choice (Young-person led), Smile a While, Halloween, Bonfire Crafts, Mindfulness, Music, The Best Bits review night, Puzzles, and Decorating Christmas Cakes, Welcome Back sessions, Challenge Night, Valentine Crafts, Art Attack, Pancake Making, Wellbeing, Table Top Games, Music and Food Glorious Food!
The group also enjoyed outings to bowling, a restaurant, Blair Drummond Safari Park, Strathclyde Country Park, and a trip to the Pantomime to see Cinderella. While young people were in our care, carers reported spending time with siblings, doing household chores and enjoying some leisure activities. To contribute to the success of the group the Befriending Coordinator (BC) kept in contact with families and referrers, spent time recruiting, training and supporting volunteers and forged new and maintained existing relationships with outside facilitators and agencies. BC booked venues, transport, activities and purchased any craft materials and resources required for the group. BC also attended any inter-agency meetings around the young people. The Better Breaks priority areas which we addressed were Independence, Transitioning to Adulthood & Diversity. This year we successfully navigated the retiral of the long standing group facilitator (GF). The new GF worked alongside the established GF for a few weeks prior to the staff change. Young people were supported to celebrate the GF moving on and to build a relationship with the new staff member. Young people adapted well, increasing their resilience for other areas of their lives. Participants also overcame low self esteem following pandemic isolation, to reengage with peers & supporters.
What COVEY Befriending has learned
1. Although COVEY continued to support young people and their families during the pandemic, some services were unable to operate and since Covid, have never resumed. There has also been a lot of staff movement and change in many agencies. Over the time of this project, we have therefore been reaching out to outside agencies to reconnect, or to forge new partnerships. We find partnership working vital to provide the best all round service to the young people and families we work with. BC attends inter-agency meetings, where the young person, their family and professionals get together and discuss supports necessary for a positive transition to the next stage in the young persons' life. We have learned that we need to integrate and embed this positive transitions approach from the start for all individuals attending the group and their carers.
2. We recently supported a local high school which was looking to gain knowledge of any services which could support their pupils with additional support needs. We were able to pass on an information pack we had put together, which they were very appreciative of. Schools have also been in touch asking if we provide volunteering opportunities for 6th year pupils looking for practical experience before attending university, which is of mutual benefit.
We are always looking for new activities and experiences for our young people. Recently we had STEM Ambassadors attend the group from a local engineering firm. They completed fun science/engineering experiments with the young people, suited to their abilities. We also approached a local shop called 'Shabby Upcyclers' and they provided workshops for the group using recycled material to make stuffed animals and canvasses which the young people loved. We have learned that increased partnership working strengthens our positive outcomes, increases community awareness of our work and increases supporter / volunteer recruitment and engagement!
3) A challenge we have had during this block is young people's transport. COVEY provide transport for families who need it, as we do not allow this to be a barrier to engagement. This can sometimes be problematic if volunteers who transport young people are unable to attend group for any reason. We have been able to address this however, by staff or volunteers from other projects stepping in to help out. We continue to explore a range of options to ensure sustainable, inclusive access for all in the future.
How COVEY Befriending has benefitted from the funding
This funding allowed staff during the time of this project to increase their knowledge and skill set by attending various training opportunities. Training was on topics including Trauma Informed Practice, Down's Syndrome, Safeguarding, Child Protection, Autism & Gender Identity Awareness and Assist-Suicide prevention Training. Where possible, volunteers also attended training opportunities and / or received applicable updates and support from staff. This project has be able to strengthen the organisation as a whole through new positive relationships which have been formed. One young person in the group has a parent working in Down's Syndrome Scotland. This parent told her organisation about the fantastic support her daughter received through this project and they have offered to provide free Makaton workshops to staff and the young people we support. They have also put us in touch with a researcher from Strathclyde University who is researching the supports needed for young people with additional support needs. Through the two day Assist Training (suicide prevention), staff also spent time with teachers and social workers who were unaware of our service and are now making referrals to COVEY. Through our successful application to Shared Care's Better Breaks Fund, we were also successful at securing additional ANGELS funding from the Agnes Hunter Trust, and the Bank of Scotland's Reach Fund, which has enabled us to widen our reach and impact. The service-wide ANGELS approach is something we will aim to strengthen going forwards.
12 Young people aged 15-20 will have enjoyed taking part in fun activities & outings within a peer social group. They will have formed positive, trusting relationships with staff, befrienders and each other. Some young people will have developed friendships which carers can support out with group.
All young people in the group stated they had fun taking part in activities together, although their favourite activities differed. Food however seemed popular with all, whether it be pancake making, cake decorating or going out for a meal! An encouraging sign was that as confidence grew, some young people were happy to lead activities and share their special interests with others. The majority of participants in the group have suffered bullying and exclusion at school and found building and maintaining friendships very difficult. Due to small numbers and high level of support, staff and befrienders were able to intervene early and explain any misunderstanding between young people caused by their additional support needs. During evaluation all young people felt the group had helped them make friends and parents and carers reported that it was great to see their child feeling included and valued in a group of their peers and often having friends for the first time.
Jennifer has Down’s syndrome and lives with her parents. Her two sibling are older and have already left home. Mum and dad felt Jennifer was spending all her time with family when she was not at school. They had tried without success to find a group suitable for Jennifer’s needs, where she could spend time with others her own age, in a safe supportive environment. When Jennifer first started attending ANGELS, she was very quiet, withdrawn and would take herself away from the group and sit on her own. Over time we gently encouraged Jennifer to join in and found out about her likes and interests. We then incorporated Jennifer’s interests of music, dancing and power rangers into activities and she became animated and excited and started to build relationships with befrienders and other young people. Mum said Jennifer always looks forward to coming along to ANGELS now and spending time with her friends there.
Some parents will be involved with COVEY’s parent/carers social group, will meet up for a coffee, with or without their child and others will take turns to supervise the young people. While young people attend the group, carers will give attention to siblings, complete housework and enjoy relaxing.
3 families received direct support through COVEY's PACT Group (Parents & Carers Together), benefitting from staff & peer support & enjoying catch-ups, crafting and outings for lunch and to a spa. Four parents connected to share transport of their children to and from group. This had many benefits, as it provided longer respite time for each family, parents/carers formed friendships, benefitting from peer support, young people formed more in-depth friendships and also this lessened travel costs. Other families reported the benefit of spending one to one time with siblings for fun or to get homework done, being able go get household chores done or to simply relax & restore energy levels. One set of parents went out for a meal every week while their child was at group, as this was the first time they were alone together, as their child was always with them in the evenings. Another parent reported that the relationship between her children was much improved as they enjoyed some time apart.
Nadine is an only child who lives with her single parent mum. Nadine had a malignant brain tumour when she was an infant. This was successfully removed, however Nadine was left visually impaired. As she had no immune system due to cancer treatment when she was young, Nadine spent all her time with adults and missed a lot of school. Once back in school, Nadine struggled to form friendships and was behind her peers academically. Nadine was very attached to mum and out with school spent all her time with mum. Once Nadine joined the ANGELS Group, mum was able to enjoy a little time to herself, knowing Nadine was having fun in a safe supportive group with others her own age. Mum also joined COVEY’s parent support group and enjoyed coffees and outings with other parent carers, who were in the same position herself. At this group mum learned of further supports in the community that herself and Nadine could benefit from.
Carers will feel less anxious and more positive about their own and their family’s future. They will have been signposted/referred to other supports available to them and their child. Parents will also be supported by a COVEY staff member to attend inter-agency meetings for their child.
In this small group, as well as having additional support needs, two young people have been brought up all their life by grandparents, one lives with his aunt, one is living in foster care & another lives in a children's unit. Life can be overwhelming and isolating for parents & carers, along with the young people they support. ANGELS brings together these young people and as detailed earlier, often their carers as well, who say peer support has helped them feel less isolated. This year we collated a comprehensive transitions support pack detailing a range of opportunities and organisations that could benefit either the young person and/or the family who cares for them. Covey staff have consistently made referrals, introductions & attended interagency meetings to support the young people. Parents & carers have reported that their young person is now receiving addition support or enjoying a disabled sports club which they previously did not know existed, with knock on benefits for all.
Luke has Down’s syndrome and has been brought up with his two siblings by his grandparents since he was born. Luke was referred to ANGELS by school who were concerned that he was very isolated and spending all his time at home. Luke’s grandparents were struggling in their caring role due to their own poor health. School were looking for respite and support for the family. Luke started attending the group and enjoyed it straight away. He is a fun, sociable boy and enjoys spending time with other young people and taking part in activities. Staff transported Luke to the group, as his grandparents did not drive. Luke spoke to BC about being bullied at school and mentioned names of the boys who were picking on him. Following a conversation with gran, BC called the school regarding this, who addressed the situation. Gran said she really appreciated this, as she lacked confidence and felt the school would listen more to BC. We are working closely with Luke's grandparents to encourage them to develop their relationship with the school and to speak up when further support is needed in the future.
Young people will have become more active and have developed skills promoting increased confidence and better physical and mental health. They will have increased self-esteem due to feeling valued and included in a social group. Carers will feel less anxious and more positive regarding the future.
Many group participants often become overwhelmed and anxious. This can be due to past trauma, frustration, feeling they don't fit in or sensory issues. Staff include activities in the programme such as well-being nights to provide individuals with strategies to lessen these feelings. Included are things like breathing exercises, yoga, fidget toys and discussing the benefits of healthy food, fresh air, reading and music. Young people are relieved to hear others also suffer anxiety and can pass on strategies to each other. A few young people talked about carrying a favourite stuffed toy or figure in their bag with them which gave them more confidence, however feeling embarrassed about this. Together they came up with the strategy of telling others in their class that it was a lucky mascot which they felt was actually true. Carers reported to having improved wellbeing if their child was happy & they were not constantly worrying about them and being contacted regularly as they were upset.
Calvin is an autistic young person who joined the ANGELS group when he had just lost his mum to suicide. He had moved in with his aunt who was going to care for him. Due to Calvin’s additional support needs, he found it difficult to form friendships and was very isolated. Calvin’s aunt had two daughters who were a lot older than him and she was struggling to find the right support for Calvin. When Calvin first joined the group he was quiet, withdrawn and very emotional. He often did not want to take part in activities and just sat and talked with a befriender. Over time Calvin started to join in and speak to other young people. He slowly built up his confidence and began to smile. Due to feeling safe and included, Calvin eventually became a popular, prominent member of the group and supported new, younger people who joined ANGELS. Calvin’s aunt said she really appreciated the support she received, as she felt overwhelmed in the beginning, but is no longer as worried about Calvin’s future.
Additional project outcome
Opportunities were provided to 4 volunteers, including 2 young volunteers from local high schools. In addition to supporting the participants to develop and grow, the volunteers themselves developed their skills, confidence, empathy, knowledge & self-esteem, alongside vital work experience for CVs.
Nieve was referred to COVEY by her social worker, having experienced trauma and PTSD, and she was supported through COVEY’s 1:1 Befriending programme for a number of years. This support enabled her to rebuild her confidence, wellbeing and resilience, to stay in education, and to ultimately move on from COVEY, taking up a place at FE college. Having made positive steps in her own life, Nieve applied to return to COVEY as a volunteer befriender. In early 2023 she completed the training programme and was subsequently matched with ANGELS’ Teen transition project. Nieve has settled in well and is already enabling the young people to connect and make new friendships. Nieve has a unique perspective, having been a COVEY young person herself, and is able to connect more uniquely with the young people in her care.