Dot to Dot
A story by Articulate Cultural Trust
Dot to Dot encourages learning through the arts and play. This project was designed to introduce the benefits of being outdoors and learning in nature. We delivered weekly forest school sessions and a residential in easter where 50 adults and children joined us for a week of outdoor learning.
What Dot to Dot did
We delivered weekly forest school sessions for families living in Ayrshire and Glasgow, these took place in Dean Park in Kilmarnock and Bylthswood Square Gardens in Glasgow - these two locations where chosen because they were easily accessible for those who don't have their own transport. These took place weekly through the autumn and spring months and led to a spring residential in the Highlands where 50 adults and children joined us for a week of glamping and outdoor learning.
The participants were all known to articulate through our Dot to Dot programme, referred through social work services or through other partners. The families all had an experience of care - either parents who had spent time in care, kinship families or families who had one or more children living n care. At least one of the children in each family is affected by physical or intellectual disabilities - sometimes as a result of neglect or abuse in early life. Our project aligns with the Complex needs Better Breaks priority area and is designed specifically for these children.
Parents and carers were supported to engage in the activities but also allowed space for respite, to share experiences with others and to take time out for themselves if needed with plenty of other adults and experienced practitioners on hand to support the children as needed.
All practitioners were recruited for their experience working with this demographic and training provided to practice in trauma and autism aware ways. Throughout the programme we up-skilled parents, provided resources and materials to encourage them to continue to practice what they learned out with the project.
The highlight of the project was seeing so many families and children sharing positive experiences, in particular at the residential when we visited Abriachan Forest, the children showed greater confidence in trying new things from the weekly sessions and the benefits on wellbeing where visible throughout the week. Our original plan was to deliver two residentials but once funding was received families asked that we provide weekly opportunities as well as the residential for more regular intervention and chances to learn.
What Articulate Cultural Trust has learned
Throughout this project Articulate has had the ability to learn more about the most efficient and effective ways to engage with families that are the most in need of support.
We have learned the following:
Project planning and budgeting - project planning for groups with such diverse needs is particularly challenging, in particular for ensuring that the activity is accessible and that everyone receives all information in a format that they are able to process and feel comfortable engaging in the opportunity. We have learned that there is a need for more resources when planning events of this scale and that forecasting larger contingencies that allow you to remove barriers as they arise with the families.
Developing activities: when programming for such a diverse group with varying needs it can be challenging to ensure there is something for everyone, we knew that co-design and participant led programming creates a diverse and representative programming however in Dot to Dot we found that this was also empowering and relationship forming for the participants.
We now understand the extra depths of risk assessment and contingency plans that accommodate the often rapidly changing situations in the families lives.
For us the main challenge is always going to be securing funding, the funding landscape is becoming more and more challenging with more competition. This makes it challenging to plan with the families and ensure that they are kept included in the developments as planning cannot begin until the funding is in place. We have learned that our fundraising strategy needs to be forecast further in advance for programmes that include families than with individual children and young people.
How Articulate Cultural Trust has benefitted from the funding
In this project we further developed a stronger relationship with the Abriachan Forest Trust, who are a charity providing outdoor learning opportunities for people in the highlands. Along with two other partners - Moniack Mhor and the Calman Trust. We are all engaged in a 3 year partnership funded by Life Changes Trust to ensure that care experienced young people have access to the arts. Abriachan provided the outdoor activities for the entire weekend this allowed us to work with them for the first time on a collaborative project, we learned the ways that we can work together to get the most out of our partnership. We also solidified a research partnership with Bristol University to further develop our approach to life stories and digital storytelling with care experienced children and young people, this allowed us to present our findings from the Dot to Dot residential at Stirling University as per of the ARCH (Archiving Children's Residential Homes) conference and present the project to researchers and professionals working with children and young people in care settings. As a result of this presentation we are developing conversations about the delivery of Dot to Dot and Trove in new local authorities where we have previously not worked and establishing relationships with service providers. We are looking at how we can utilise the existing partnerships to leverage long term research funding that measures the impacts of these interventions over a period of 10 years with children affected by childhood trauma, disability and disadvantage. We have emerged with a deeper understanding of the service that we need to develop, the research that will accompany this quality practice to contribute to an evidence base that supports the value of and need for our interventions.
Disabled children and young people will have experienced at least one weekend break filled with fun and enjoyable activities, and develop friendships.
We delivered outdoor learning sessions on a weekly basis as well as one large week long residential in the spring of 2023. 50 adults and children from the central belt attended the residential where we stayed in camping pods near to the Abriachan Forest in the highlands. Each day was filled with outdoor learning, shared meals, campfires and games. New relationships were build and existing ones deepened with the children enjoying time outdoors and commenting on how much they enjoyed the activities and didn't miss their electronic devices. The children tried new things that they hadn't previously tried and grew in confidence throughout the weekend. For some of the children there were a lot of first time experiences which could have been challenging but the support of the group and their new friends made things less scary and easier to take part in.
One of the families (mum, gran and daughter) took part in the weekly sessions at Dean Castle where we lead activities in outdoor play, den building, foraging and treasure hunts. Gran had previously expressed worries about how others perceive the behaviour of her autistic granddaughter, feeling misunderstood and often judged by others if she was over stimulated or struggling in public environments. Throughout the programme the child grew in confidence within the group, building relationships and engaging more in group activities as time went on, the rest of the parents and carers had similar experiences and cared for children with similar challenges and this put Gran at ease. When it came time to attend the residential the entire family felt more comfortable with joining in, with careful planning and information sessions to ease any concerns they were excited to attend the residential. Throughout the week long residential the staff supported mum, gran and child to engaged in ways that were comfortable and appropriate to their needs, offering a lift back to the accommodation if things became too overwhelming which offered a safety net for if she was becoming too overwhelmed. Gran reported that she felt well supported throughout and said 'I was not so frazzled and did not feel judged when *** kicked off and just supported and *** was just accepted by everyone.' Gran explained that the relationships built in the week to week sessions helped her granddaughter to feel comfortable to attend and take part and to overcome challenges ' even after she got extremely overwhelmed on day one with the trust she had in Laura we got her back one day two, usually if she has had a bad experience she won't return to a place so that is a big step'. Throughout the project it was evident that the family benefited from the activities and being with others, comments throughout and in feedback raised themes of improved physical and emotional wellbeing, connecting with others, learning and improved coping mechanisms. Revisiting the conversations about the residential with the family prove that the experience has a positive impact, with the children asking to return to the site, asking again for the foods that we tried (sometimes for the first time) '*** ate pizza for the first time' and remembering the activities fondly show the importance of opportunities where families are freed up from day to day pressures to enjoy themselves and make memories.