Barnardo's Family Support Team
A story by Barnardo's Family Support Team
Both weekends took place at the Nethybridge Outdoor Centre, near Aviemore – part of the Abernethy Trust, providing a range of fun, rewarding outdoor activities, with support for children/young people and all of the family. In my experience children with learning disabilities and associated complex needs, eg epilepsy, do not normally have the opportunity to experience such a wide range of challenging and rewarding experiences – canoeing, climbing, archery, etc in our risk adverse society. Like most children if given the chance they will achieve and prosper. This has very much been our experience over 25 years.
Since May 2013 we have run 2 short breaks of 4 days, 3 nights providing fun activities for young people and a positive family experience. Holiday 1 provided places for 9 young people (with support) and holiday 2, a family weekend for the whole family - 6 families took part. A third residential weekend is planned for March 2014.
Tip 1:Ensure that you have sufficient staff/volunteers available to meet the needs of children and young people who will take part. This may include the need for waking carers. Safety is paramount.
Tip 2:Ensure that the centre you visit has the correct ethos and that facilities are of a high standard, which includes qualified instructors and safety equipment.
Tip 3:Be prepared for the unexpected – keep calm and carry on!
• From young people – “I learned how to be brave.” “I loved the zip wire, canoeing, archery and football.”
• From parents – “M improved his social and independent living skills and also his confidence. Now that he is getting older experiences like these are invaluable to his development.” “He did very well in leaving me for that few days.” (For this 15 year old young man, this was his first experience of being away from home.)
Holiday One – D (15) is a young man with global developmental delay who lives at home with his single parent mum and older brothers in a disadvantaged part of the city. He has never been away from home before and after some initial reassurance surprises his family by saying he will give the holiday a go. While he copes well with the separation helped by the fact that his girlfriend is also taking part and enjoys the weekend, he is very clear that he is not keen to go again – he has tried it! However given this positive experience both he and his mum are now willing to consider planned short breaks at the local residential short break unit. His mum feels this will help his maturity and independence. D feels keen to spend time at the unit- his girlfriend also attends!
“All of our children loved Nethybridge and the outdoor activities. It’s hard to do these kind of things with 4 kids, all of whom who have different needs and they will be speaking about the great time they had. Nethybridge is great and the staff there are very understanding. Our children have gained new skills and learned that they can do more than they had thought, gained new friends and an understanding of other special needs kids.”
“Me and all our family can’t thank Better Breaks enough. We had a great time together and of course the helpers at Barnardo’s have hearts of gold. My twins want to take their 16th birthday there instead of having a party. So that tells you how much fun they had.”
Holiday Two – B is a 15 year old young person who has significant learning disabilities and complex epilepsy, which is the result of a non accidental head injury. His behaviour can at times be very challenging. He was received into the care of the local authority over 12 months ago as he was out with the control of his single parent mum, who loves him dearly. It is recognized by all involved in his care the importance of this attachment and relationship for both mother and son. With support, both mum and son spend a highly enjoyable weekend together providing a positive experience and unforgettable memories.
“The short break weekend gives families a massive boost and reduces anxiety. The benefits are increased self confidence in a relaxed environment. A real sense of fun and increased well being and a chance to meet other families. We are all happier together. Such breaks put life in perspective and are vital for family cohesion and morale. Extra support needs within the family is relentlessly challenging. The breaks are a lifeline to children with few friends. Well planned short breaks provide support to both the family and the child. The families involved are not typical. This is not the same as a mainstream holiday that anyone can book.”
Holiday Two – A is 9 years old and lives with his single parent dad who is a student and suffers from a history of poor mental health. He feels very isolated and has few supports or friends. A himself has a range of complex disabilities and at times, hard to manage behaviours. Some weeks prior to the short break weekend dad attempts suicide, but those involved in his care assess this as a cry for help. He takes part in the weekend, but leaves mid way feeling poorly. A stays and is supported by his future short break carer who co runs the weekend. Dad feels confident in the short break carer’s abilities and as a consequence of the weekend, planned short breaks are now in place. Dad’s physical and mental health is improving steadily.
Since 1986 when we ran our first residential short break, the funding we have received from a variety of sources, has been in addition to our local authority funding and obtained through the goodwill of local people and organizations, national and local trusts, our local Barnardo’s Helpers Group and most recently Short Breaks/Better Breaks.
While this represents real inequality and is at heart an issue of fundamental rights, we know from long experience that such breaks are life changing and the rewards for our children are hard to quantify. What value do you put on an experience when a child says, “I learned to be brave”?
In terms of challenges, ensuring that all participants have a positive experience and are safe but also experience managed risk, are key considerations.
We are unable to offer the service to children unknown to our service or with less severe forms of disability, given our funding agreement and Service Level Agreement with Dundee City Council, our funding partners.
For many children their needs are complex which often includes medical needs such as complex epilepsy.
Simple questionnaires for the children and young people who take part.
Questionnaires for staff, volunteers and parents.
Evaluation reports which are produced for each holiday, which includes outcomes.
Bi-annual User Satisfaction survey, which includes questions which relate to our residential short breaks.
Prior to application to Short Breaks/Better Breaks a detailed user survey seeking views on what type of short breaks parents value and want.