Edinburgh Better Breaks
A story by VOCAL
Provision of flexible short breaks for children with additional needs and their families, in partnership with Edinburgh Leisure (EL) and Lothian Autistic Society (LAS).
Breaks were provided through: specialist leisure provision in small groups (with Edinburgh Leisure) and individual befriending or social activities (with LAS).
What Edinburgh Better Breaks did
In partnership with LAS and Edinburgh Leisure offered a choice of two kinds of breaks;
Structured groups of sporting activity. 2 programmes compromising 8 hour and half sessions were offered at a city centre leisure centre. Participants were offered the opportunity to including boccia, football, rugby, athletics and gymnastics.
Flexible individual breaks through which a child or young person was supported to take part in leisure activities of their choosing in a wide variety of community locations i.e. cinemas, parks, cafes or in their own homes. Each child or family was given up to 40 hours or individual breaks.
While the children and young people were engaged in these activities the carers were able to use their time as they chose. Some carers used the time to see friends or spend time with family (most commonly their other children), engage in exercise, catch up on chores and paperwork and one carer reported that she used the time to catch up on sleep.
The opportunities were extensively advertised in a bid to inform both carers already known to VOCAL and those who were not currently accessing our support. Twice we featured the opportunities in our newsletter ‘Carers News’ which has a circulation of 3,000 carers and approx. 1,000 professionals in Edinburgh.
We created a dedicated page on our website and sent ebulletins to carers known to VOCAL and LAS. In addition we requested that schools sent the information home with their pupils and we liaised with a number of local agencies and practitioners in roles bringing them into regular contact with children with additional needs and their families.
To access a break an application form was completed. All applications were reviewed by a group of carers who have been trained to work as volunteer panel members.
This had resulted in them having very low expectations of service provision and less likely to seek support. Both parents were under considerable stress and Mum has a long term condition that affects her energy levels and results in her experiencing significant pain. Their health issues also presented a barrier to accessing support.
The family were supported to apply to for flexible hours by one of VOCAL’s Carers Support Workers and were awarded 40 hours of breaks. The hours of breaks were spent in the family home and garden with the worker and child spending time on the computer, watching television using some soft play equipment. Initially one of the child’s parents remained at home during the breaks but over time as the breaks proved successful they were able to spend a little time out of the house together. The spent the time they had doing some practical chores like visiting the bank and shops but also spent some time socialising with friends.
Both parents reported significant reduction in stress and increased confidence during and following the breaks. Both also identified that is was important for them to try and access more support on an on-going basis and are being supported by VOCAL to do this. Mum has commented to the Support Worker with ‘that it has worked once it so it can work again’.
The activity scheme was held on a Saturday and the family were supported to access a befriender for her Mother at the same time so that she could have a complete break from caring. While her child was at the scheme was able to spend some time with her husband including spending time with him in a ‘coffee shop having cake and just reading’
During the break hours the child and the LAS Support Worker visited the local swimming pool and went to the local supermarket for fish and chips. This is the child’s favourite thing to do and she choose this activity for each break. The outings took place on a fortnightly basis for several months.
After the first couple of outings we received an email from the carers which said ‘I wanted to tell you how much… enjoyed the session…… was so shiny and happy when I collected them I had forgotten she could be like that’.
While her daughter was with the support worker the carer spent quiet time in the house relaxing with a book or doing chores. She explained that doing chores while her child was out with the Support Worker enabled her to go for a swim during the school time. She was keen to swim as she finds it relaxing and it also was helping her to lose weight and generally improve her health.
Following the conclusion of the breaks the carer reported a positive change in her relationship with her child saying ‘x is wanting to spend less time with me and more time feeling independent’. The carer reported that both she and her child were in better spirits now and were feeling positive. The carer said she felt less stressed.
What VOCAL has learnedFeedback about the structured breaks was very positive. However, attendance was not always consistent usually due to prior/alternative commitments. it appears that an eight week term may be too long for many families. We will have shorter terms in future work.
Feedback from carers also suggested that a longer structured session would have given them a more beneficial break so we intend to have a longer session in future work.
We also noted that the most positive engagement in the flexible breaks came from those families that were experiencing a change of circumstances e.g. relationship separation, multiple caring roles or poor health. We are considering reflecting this in our priority criteria.