A story by COVEY Befriending
We delivered befriending with support from community volunteers and build trusting relationships, improving confidence, health and wellbeing and social skills.
COVEY Befriending supports children and families in South Lanarkshire to become resilient, safe and better equipped to reach their potential.
What ANGELS Transitions did
We provided a weekly group session lasting two hours, which followed the school term. Activities included Therapets, Lego Therapy, eating out and artbeam workshops. The group was based in the Autism Resource Hub in Hamilton. The young people age 15-19 years all had some type of additional support need. They were referred by agencies such as social work and school. We were oversubscribed for this project and chose young people who were most disadvantaged and socially isolated.
While young people attended the group, parents and carers gave individual attention to their other children, completed household tasks they could not otherwise get done and spent quality leisure time together. Carers also noted an improvement in family relationships, as siblings had time apart and parents felt less pressured. Groups were led by staff and volunteers who were in sixth year at school. These volunteers hoped to enter careers such as teaching and medicine. Young volunteers were trained and PVG checks were carried out.
Staff met with families and referrers to understand each young persons abilities, goals and preferences. Time was then spent planning an activity calendar, booking facilitators, venues and buying resources. Priority areas were independence and transition to adulthood.The majority of the young people who attend ANGELS cannot go out unaccompanied due to their vulnerability. We maximise young peoples’ independence by providing the opportunity to socialise with their peers in a safe supportive environment.
We invited community health and emergency services along to the group. They provided workshops for young people to learn about looking after their health and personal safety in various situations. Lifeskills such as cooking and baking were enjoyed. The group visited places of interest in the community for the first time without their family. One particular success was the relationships formed between young people and also between parents. At referral many of the young people were reported to have no friends, but now feel included and valued in a group of their peers. This project went to plan, as COVEY has built experience over many years in this area.
What COVEY Befriending has learned
Due to the increasing referrals we receive for young people with additional needs, it was important that we targeted the families most in need of support. When reading through the ‘Request for Assistance’ referral forms from agencies, it was noticeable that the younger the child, the more support they were receiving. It became apparent that there are more services available in our community for children up to the age of approximately fourteen with additional needs and as they progress in age, the amount of support available seemed to decrease.
We therefore targeted young people over the age of fourteen and chose individuals who were the most isolated and not attending any other clubs or support groups. Young people who were presently out of school and spending all their time at home were given top priority.
When reaching out to new families to arrange an initial visit, it was sometimes quite difficult to contact them in the first instance. They would not always answer the phone if they did not recognise the number. Once families recognised the support we were offering and saved our number, communication was easier. We found it important to let families know at the outset that we had a waiting list, to allow us to manage expectations.
We explained that not everyone we visited would get a place in the group straight away. An open, positive relationship was formed with young people and their families. Time spend building relationships with the parents was important as parents had to feel safe leaving their vulnerable young people in our care. From there we were able to establish the support needs, interests and goals of the young people. This was found to be essential knowledge for bringing together a group of young people. The group dynamics had to be right to enable everyone involved to have the most beneficial, enjoyable experience possible.
Developing new activities is always dependent on the needs and interests of the group. We have a general bank of popular facilitators and activities, which have been tried and tested. We are also constantly changing and adapting activities and always on the look out for new ideas. In this group two of the young people are visually impaired. When taking part in active games, we discovered a soft ball, which contained a bell. This meant that these young people could hear where the ball was and felt included in games.
A few of the young people liked music and drama and so we found a retired school teacher who did art beam therapy with the group. This included percussion instruments, a sound beam and large puppets, which allowed the young people to act out a story. This was very popular and a good connection to make and the young people responded well to this activity.
How COVEY Befriending has benefitted from the funding
This funding allowed us to expand our service, setting up and additional group for twelve young people age fifteen and above with additional support needs. This was very helpful as there were young people who had been on our waiting list for some time. They were greatly in need of a service and their families also needed support. We developed a link with two new schools through this project. As well as referring young people in need of support to us, they also put forward sixth year pupils who were interested in volunteering. The guidance teacher interviewed these pupils in advance of putting them forward, to ensure that they were sincere and committed. The recruitment of these young volunteers was an unintentional, but very positive outcome of the ANGELS Group. We are able to break down barriers and stigma associated with Additional Support Needs and disabilities. We also supported young volunteers to increase their knowledge and practical experience . While befriending with the ANGELS Group they developed skills to help achieve Duke of Edinburgh Award, Saltire Award and the Queens Award. Through this project and meeting young people with support needs and their families, we were able to identify siblings that were struggling due to the family dynamics. From there we could refer them internally to our ‘Time Out’ sibling support groups. By siblings attending these groups, they were able to socialise with others going through the same challenges as themselves and felt less isolated. They could take part in activities that they were unable to do with their family, which could simply be watching a film, making cakes or going on an outing. Many parents and carers had spoken about, in addition to worrying about their child with a disability, they also worried and felt guilty about the affect that it had on their siblings. Time Out groups reduced pressure on parents and families, as when everyone had some quality time individually, they got on better as a family.
At least 10 young people will have had personal and social opportunities through weekly outings and activities. 4 will have developed friendships which are then supported by parents out with the group. All young people will report to having had fun and enjoyed the group experience.
This outcome was achieved as twelve young people said that they had enjoyed the various experiences and activities they had taken part in. They all had a particular favorite whether it was eating out, music and dancing or quizzes. No matter the activity, staff and befrienders incorporated ways of increasing social skills, confidence and self-esteem. If a young person had a particular talent or skill, we provided opportunities for them to demonstrate or teach it to the rest of the group. The group gelled well together as a whole, while four young people formed particular friendships with each other. Parents were very happy to support this out with the group, as many of the young people had been bullied in the past and had found it difficult to build and maintain friendships with their peers. Some young people had increased confidence at school, as for the first time they were able to chat about taking part in activities or being out with friends in their free time.
Heather is a teenage girl who has dyslexia and autism. She was referred to our service by school. School said she was very isolated, anxious and struggled to form friendships with her peers, which was affecting her general well-being. Heather received help through the support base and counseling in school and her parents were supportive, trying to provide social opportunities for her, but with no success. When Heather first attended the group she sat with the hood up at all times and did not want to contribute to discussions. She was always included, but never forced into taking part in anything. As the other young people in the group all have their own support needs and many have suffered bullying in the past, they are very accepting and inclusive of others. Over time Heather started taking her hood down and becoming involved in conversations. Staff discovered Heather was very interested in geography, countries and flags. We therefore included a section on this in a quiz night and Heather lead that part of the quiz and marked the answers. This was fantastic for her confidence, especially when the other young people enjoyed the quiz and praised Heather for her knowledge. It has been good for Heather's general well-being that she now feels included and valued in a group of her peers. She has formed a close friendship with one of the other girls in the group and they keep in touch through social media and also meet up occasionally with their mums. School now report that Heather is happier and less anxious.
20 Parent/Carers will feel more confident and hopeful about the future of their child and family life will improve. 15 Young people will have opportunity to become more active and develop skills that will result in increase confidence and better physical and mental health.
The majority of young people who attend ANGELS do not attend any other group. Parents worry about their child's future, as they currently spend all their time with family. This puts pressure on family relationships due to the amount of time spent together. Many of the young people also need to be accompanied when out in the community due to their lack of awareness of personal safety. Attending ANGELS increases young peoples' independence and provides family members some personal time. Feeling included and valued in a group of peers increases the young peoples' confidence, mental health and well being. Through ANGELS, parents meet others in the same position as themselves and learn about other services available. When staff hear about other organisations which may benefit families, they either print leaflets and pass to the families or email the information to them. Twenty parents were delighted to see their child have fun and make friends, which provides them with hope for the future.
Jan is a teenage girl who has Down’s syndrome. She has two younger siblings and the family moved here from abroad three years ago. The children are all bi-lingual, although the parents struggle a bit with the language barrier. Jan was referred to us by school. School said that Jan struggled with low mood and was socially isolated. Jan struggled to understand the dynamic of relationships and did not have any friends. Staff found that Mum felt supported to bring up her daughter in her home country, but was finding it difficult in Scotland and the family felt isolated due to the language barrier. Mum said that the children were arguing, because Jan was jealous of her younger siblings. Jan was annoyed that they were allowed out unaccompanied and she was not, although she was older. She also felt they were taller, more attractive and had more friends than her. Jan was very reliant on Mum and got upset if mum gave her siblings attention. Jan took a little time to settle in the group. She was very anxious at first and kept running from the room or area that we were in. Jan now feels safe in ANGELS and is learning about group dynamics and that individuals can have more than one friend. She is gradually becoming more confident in the group and is starting to build relationships with others. Feedback from Mum has been that on the day of the group Jan is very active and happy. She lays out her clothes hours in advance and talks about what is happening that night in the group. Mum said that her children’s' relationship has improved, as Jan now has her own friends and a group that is only for her and her siblings don’t go. Mum is also able to give individual attention to Jan's siblings when Jan is out. Through the group mum has learned about other organisations that support individuals with Down's syndrome. She is now feeling more optimistic about the family's future in this country.
Parents /carers will report the benefit they had due to their child attending ANGELS. They will have been able to enjoy activities that they would not normally have done and had time with the siblings in the family. At least 5 parents will take part in the wider COVEY projects designed for parents.
This outcome was achieved as 6 of the parents now attend COVEY's PACT (Parents and Carers Together) group. PACT is a support group, which does not focus on carer’s problems navigating the system or their children's additional needs. It is more a relaxing time out. Parents can unwind and go to a spa, for lunch or just simply have a coffee and take part in an arts and crafts session. They report to enjoying time for themselves and in turn being a better carer. Many parents said they find other groups too intense and they just want some time to escape every day stresses. This group is funded, as many of the parents can't work and have limited finances due to their caring role. The groups are held in the morning as young people are often at school or college. While young people attend the ANGELS group, parents can have quality time together, give their other children individual attention or get chores done, which they can not manage when their child with additional needs is in the house.
Sarah is a teenage girl who has autism. Mum is a single parent and Sarah and her live in a terraced house with maternal grandfather living next door. Sarah's dad and gran have both recently passed away. Mum suffers from poor mental and physical health and is a carer for both Sarah and her grandfather. Sarah has been attending ANGELS for some time and as Mum is a non driver Sarah is transported to and from the group. Mum said attending the group has been great for Sarah's independence, confidence and social skills. Mum likes to see Sarah having fun with young people her own age in a safe supportive environment. Mum said it is good for them to have some time apart as their relationship is quite intense and it is good for them to have something to discuss when Sarah comes home. COVEY staff working with Sarah referred Mum to the PACT Group. Mum is now transported to and from this group and enjoys relaxing and taking part in activities with other parents in a similar position to herself. Mum likes the fact that the group is chilled and there is no pressure. She said that if she is experiencing a dip in her mental health, attending the group can lift her mood. Mum said this also helps her be a more positive carer for Sarah
10 Parents/carers will report that they feel more supported in their caring role. They will be less stressed and have improved engagement with other services through the signposting and support from the ANGELS Coordinator. They then are able to access the help they need to deal with other services.
We do not work with young people in isolation, we work collaboratively with the others involved in the young person's life such as education and social work. We are involved in multi agency meetings and believe that if all professionals work together, then young people will receive a more holistic support. ANGELS staff tend to have a positive, less formal relationship with families, allowing parents to feel less stressed in meetings, as we are there supporting them. The ANGELS coordinator has built up knowledge over a number of years of various local and national support groups and can signpost parents to these. Many parents face similar issues and are unaware of services which could provide a straight forward solution and make life less stressful for themselves and their child. Six parents needed extra support to engage with other services, the coordinator either made contact in the first instance to refer the young person or family or made appointment for them.
Alan was a sixteen year old boy who had autism and struggled with school attendance. His dad had an alcohol misuse problem, his younger brother had behavioral issues and mum suffered poor physical and mental health. Mum loved and wanted the best for her sons, but struggled to achieve this due to her own anxiety and depression. Alan was referred to ANGELS by school due to his poor attendance, social isolation and low mood. A COVEY staff member went out to meet Alan and his family and although Alan was very withdrawn, a positive, trusting relationship was formed with Mum. With a lot of encouragement and support, Alan started attending the ANGELS Group and the coordinator kept in close contact with mum. Mum spoke of issues Alan was facing at school and said that she had made an appointment at school to discuss this, but when the day came she was too anxious to go. The coordinator offered to accompany Mum to the meeting, which school were happy with and this meeting went ahead. The coordinator was able to help Mum put her point across and some school issues were addressed for Alan. This included Alan now being able to come into school slightly later and leave slightly earlier, so that he would not need to struggle with the noise and crowds, which he found so difficult due to sensory issues. Alan's school attendance improved following this meeting. Alan also struggled to get to sleep and had very irregular sleep patterns, feeling tired constantly. The coordinator told Mum about Sleep Scotland and offered to make an appointment for her. Mum was unable to attend this appointment because of her anxiety. The befriending coordinator therefore, made mum a phone appointment with Sleep Scotland. They were able to talk to Mum over the phone about Alan's sleeping issues and give her some strategies to put in place to help him. Alan no longer needs support from COVEY, however Mum said she really appreciated the service, at a time when the family were in need of support. Alan is now attending a local college course.