Children's and Young People's Service
A story by Interest Link Borders
Services and activities have been as planned. There have been 24 1:1 links and 55 in groups. These have involved 45 children aged 8-15 and 33 aged 16-20 1:1 links meet weekly, fortnightly or monthly for a variety of community activities such as playing football in the park and swimming.
There are ten befriending groups meeting fortnightly. There are more volunteers than service users, making groups as much like mainstream youth groups as possible.
Group activities have been varied, for example Jewellery making and Halloween nights, a film project, cookery evenings, drama workshops, a talent show, and Health Awareness sessions.
• The project is an integration of the previously separate Children's Service and Young Peoples Service.
• It will involve young volunteers in 1:1 and group links giving children and young people with learning disabilities their only opportunity in the Scottish Borders to enjoy social and leisure activities of their choice with friends, and giving regular high quality respite to their carers.
Tip 1:• Form close relationships with statutory and voluntary providers so that you can identify in advance as many as possible of the families that you hope to work with. Consult with the families to establish the level of need and the types of befriending they want (e.g. 1:1 or group). Use this information as the basis of your business plan and funding applications.
Tip 2:• Join Befriending Networks and access their training programme, best practice guides and quality assurance scheme. They are an excellent umbrella body; focused closely on the specific issues you will face but with a UK-wide scope that gives them an unrivalled breadth of expertise.
Tip 3:• Ask other learning disabilities befriending projects for advice. For example all of Interest Link’s documentation, forms and policies are available on our website and we are very happy for other organisations to come and visit and see what we do.
• Archie was initially very quiet within the group and very much sat outwith the activities but has gradually joined in more and more. He is now fully engaged within the group setting and even made suggestions for our activities. Recently, when we voted on which DVD we wanted to watch, Archie’s was chosen and he celebrated with a victory dance.
• Peer mentors have commented on the changes in Archie and we are proud as a group to have made him feel so welcome. The difference in him is profound and his parents have noted his new levels of enthusiasm when coming to the group.
• A photo of Archie (far right hand side) at a Halloween Fright Night is attached
• Anne (16) has been coming to an Interest Link youth group which has recently had a talent show, drama workshops, a jewellery making session and a baking night.
• When asked about the difference it had made to her life she said “I’m happier: because I'm out of the house. More confident: because I'm funny - I get people to laugh. I feel better about myself, because I'm mixing with other people.”
• Dougal (11) has learning disabilities and ADHD and lives with his parents
• Although initially anxious and shy, he quickly grew in confidence and was able to feel very much at ease with other members of the group. He is an instantly likable character who is particularly creative and has really enjoyed the wide range of activities the group has done: “It makes me happy when I go. It gives me something to look forward to.”
• The group’s impact was especially noticeable when the children performed their individual creative drama sketches at the end of a Drama Project recently. The delight on his face was a picture at his achievement and self control.
• His mother and father were both in the audience and were absolutely amazed at his attention to detail and ability to work collaboratively with other group members.
• A photo of Dougal at the group is attached
• Daniel has been linked with Richard (who is 19) since May and they have fun together either outside at the park, or at the local swimming pool or sports centre. The volunteer is proving to be a kind, positive male role model for the young lad, which is greatly needed.
• Daniel has been very enthusiastic: “I have a great friend who I look forward to seeing. He is great!!!”
• Daniel’s mother is very pleased with the link as the service user enjoys his outings so much and also because he behaves so well with his volunteer. “It is lovely to see Daniel excited about going out and full of chat when he comes back.”
• Zara (11) is autistic and has learning disabilities, does not particularly enjoy her school life and has had a history of hiding and running away from her classroom.
• Zara’s parents are worried how she will cope with the transition from Primary School to High School, and it was felt that a 1-1 link would help her social skills, confidence and self-worth.
• A perfect volunteer, Susan became available and the first few outings have been a great success. Zara is excited and energised at the chance to have more individual time to talk and express herself and has an Interest Link Wish List which includes playing Mini Golf, Walks, and a special visit to an Airport to see real planes.
• Both her parents are very happy for the opportunity to make things easier for Zara as she moves through transitions in her life. “It makes us feel good to think that Zara's life is fuller: the time she spends with her friend is often the only time in the week she speaks with someone socially outside her family.”
• Lionel is 15, has learning disabilities and lives with his father and brother. His father also has learning disabilities and his brother has ADHD and when Lionel was referred the social worker explained that Lionel sometimes had the role of carer within the family too.
• When Lionel joined the youth group he was serious, held back much of the time with little to say unless he was encouraged to talk. Now his peer volunteers from school have commented on how Lionel is ‘much more confident’ and ‘outgoing’ and that they all said hello at school and chatted when they meet. He is no longer shy, initiates conversations, smiles and laughs a lot and fully joins in with the hurly-burly of the group activities.
• His father is delighted with his progress and said “the free time is good for me and his brother. We see Lionel is very happy, so we are happy too”.
• Sarah’s mother greatly appreciates the respite and the chance to do something for herself. “I like getting the little break and I can go out and do leisure classes and go out with friends”
• She is thrilled that Sarah enjoys her outings so much, and said “the break gives me renewed enthusiasm [for my caring role].”
• The volunteer told us that “Sarah’s mother has a little more space and is not so isolated now”.
• Rosemary is 17 and has learning disabilities and is in one of our youth groups.
• Her parents have noted her new levels of enthusiasm when coming to the youth group and they are thrilled that she has fitted into the group so well: “I'm very happy that Rosemary has the opportunity to go to the group sessions. The break does the whole family good and it is very nice to have 2 hours peace on a Monday evening. We can recharge our batteries and she gets to enjoy some time with new people. When she does activities she always comes back happy and ready to go to sleep”
• The mutuality of benefit exists because activities are organised round the person cared for and the quality of the respite is increased because carers know the person they care for is enjoying themselves and having opportunities that would not otherwise be possible.
• In July 2013 we carried out face-to-face and postal surveys of the children and young people who had been involved in befriending links during the previous year. A full report is available on our website, but in summary:
• 83% of family carers said they had more opportunities to enjoy a life outside of their caring role
• 88% were better able to sustain that role and
• 75% told us they had improved wellbeing.
2. Children and young people with learning disabilities:
• 96% of children and young people with learning disabilities told us we had helped improve their confidence
• 93% had greater self-esteem
• 88% said their lifeskills had developed
• We are not restricted by local authority eligibility criteria and can offer our services to all children and young people with learning disabilities
• To the extent that the personalisation agenda is identified with self-directed support, it would conflict with the freely-given nature of the befriending relationship for 1:1 links to be provided under direct contract. Contributions towards group costs (which all members will shortly be paying) could be more easily be paid under contract.
• Thus our service is consciously complementary to the statutory provision which aims to meet essential personal care needs.
Social and communication skills and
Abilities to form relationships and function as a member of a group.
Confidence, self-esteem, lifeskills and physical and mental wellbeing.
• The befriending groups in particular have a strong focus on personal development projects and can make an enormous difference to the growth of children and young people at this crucial stage in life.
• The project is the only service in the Scottish Borders focusing on the growth and development of children and young people with learning disabilities.
The Branch Co-ordinator and assistant took on the task and interviewed all 41. Usually when we have had a very large response like this in the past, the numbers have been greatly whittled down over the 2-month registration and training process. In this case however, 31 stayed the course and those who cannot be found places in the three groups are being linked 1:1 in a supervised setting.
• We have been able to provide a service to almost all the families who have registered with us, and so have encountered relatively few situations where we have had to decide between families.
• Where there has been a need to choose, we have prioritised families where respite is most needed:
Single carer families, rurally isolated families and families with young carers
Families where the nature or severity of the child or young person’s disabilities has made greater demands of carers and/or has meant there is a restricted access to other forms of respite.
Reaching families not known to us.
• We have a very specific service user group, namely families which have a member with learning disabilities.
• All have multiple support needs and need respite as a priority and as a result virtually all these families are known to the local authority through schools, colleges, transition, day and Local Area Co-ordinator services. We work closely with these agencies to ensure that the service is offered to all those who are eligible.
• In addition we have ties with other voluntary sector providers through the Specialist Youth Provider Group and Adult Learning Disabilities Provider Group.
• We also carry out regular poster and leaflet distributions across the Scottish Borders and try to get local radio and press to run as many articles about us as possible.
• We believe that together, these measures enable us to reach all eligible families.
• As mentioned immediately above, we prioritise families where a child or young person’s disabilities are particularly severe, but all the disabled children and young people have multiple support needs as a result of their learning disabilities: all have a significant, lifelong condition that affects their development and means they need help to understand information, learn skills and cope independently.
• Specifically, they need a high level of support in 4 areas:
Education: almost all are taught in additional needs support units at school or college rather than in mainstream classes. This is less marked at primary schools, but almost all of the children we work with attend one of the six local primary schools which specialise in additional needs provision.
Communication/social interaction and Access to social activities: all the children and young people we work with have significant problems in these 2 areas and most are unable to form normal friendships with peers either individually or in groups. . Interest Link is the only service in the Scottish Borders that overcomes communication and social interaction problems to enable children and young people with learning disabilities to make friendships and become part of mainstream social groups and activities. Monitoring feedback consistently emphasises the crucial role our service plays in overcoming barriers in these areas.
Personal care and supervision /vigilance. Our children and young people tend to have very little sense of personal safety or risk and this is compounded because their disabilities make many activities more difficult and so inherently more risky.
• In addition,
Over 20% of the children and young people we support are on the autistic spectrum,
At least 25% suffer from epilepsy,
We do not specifically gather information on behavioural disorders and sensory impairments, but national incidence figures suggest that at least 20% will have a hearing impairment and/or visual impairment and at least 25% will have behavioural disorders/mental health issues.
• The online report form is very well designed and easy to use. A possible improvement might be to have navigation options at top of page to take you to individual pages.
• Formal surveys of adults with learning disabilities, their carers and volunteers, such as that carried out in July 2013. A full report on this survey is available on our website and the main results are outlined in 2.9 above.
• Informal workshops enabling groups of adults with learning disabilities (who often find it difficult to provide feedback in writing or through a formal interview) to tell us about their experiences. This is a new development we are introducing from December 2013.
• Annual Review meetings with families at which they can tell us about their experiences.
• Independent evaluation scheduled for Spring 2014: we previously used such evaluations to gather information similar to that in our formal internal July 2013 survey. While this may still be needed to an extent, it is likely the evaluation will also focus on specific issues, and provide expert assistance in running workshops for adults with learning disabilities involved in 1:1 links.