Family Fun in 2021 - Family Summer Programme
A story by Carers of East Lothian
The project was to allow eight parent/carers, who have children, under 18 years old with additional support needs (e.g autism/ Adhd).As a family to be included and be able to fully participate in a family summer activity programme with support. Creating happy memories and making friendships.
What Family Fun in 2021 - Family Summer Programme did
‘Families to enjoy together’.
Eight families we supported, applied for a place on the programme. They met our criteria and had no access to any other summer activity provision that could meet their needs. The programme happened over five Thursdays between July and August 2021. We also had two family re-union activities between February – April 2022. It was a great success and all activity costs, lunch and transport costs were covered. This greatly helped the families to fully participate and succeed in East Lothian.
The programme included a welcome and family introduction day. This included (social distanced) games, arts and crafts, lunch and a relaxed/sensory cinema experience. After this we had two activity days, which included inclusive cycling and outdoor bush craft. We also had a day trip to East Links Family Park. We finished with a celebration day at the alpaca centre and festival tent. We had a disco, lunch, alpaca walk, face painter, arts and crafts and programme participation certificates.
The approved re – union included the theatre and a team building and orienteering day for families. This was a great success and the families all enjoyed meeting up and re- connecting. Many families had stayed friends from the summer programme.
All the parent/carer’s participated and they appreciated the staff/ volunteer support. We worked in partnership with all the agencies and services. A family centred approach worked very well and this resulted in high family attendance and participation. During the activity days we split the families, according to age group meeting all their needs but still meeting up at lunch time.
The parent/carer’s got a break as they were not involved in organising the activities, lunches and worrying about costs. This gave them time for themselves, make friendships and to have positive experiences with all their children. We created chill zone spaces and allowed space and recovery time. We also recruited a parent/carer volunteer, who worked in partnership with the two parent/carer staff involved. She was a great asset and came with a lot of experience.
What Carers of East Lothian has learned
I feel I would give myself more time to plan the project. Once funds approved we only had three months to organise. However, we had done a lot of research and cost finding for the application. For such a small project it felt right to offer places to families we already had a relationship with. I am aware it may have excluded families who would have also benefited.
We had one issue, when we presumed a family were ok, when they said they were ok during a activity, but were not. At that point a activity staff member was with them, but we made a presumption as they were safe, that emotional support at that point was not needed. In reflection we need to focus on the parents mental wellbeing, as well as the children's. This was a one off incident, as we did not know family that well. We did some restorative work with parent and bridges were made. I think it highlights the clarity needed around the responsibility of boundaries and intervention between parent/carer and staff.
How Carers of East Lothian has benefitted from the funding
As an organisation this is the first time we have run such a large scale family activity programme. It has been a great learning experience and confidence boost for Carers of East Lothian and the staff team involved. It was also a great service and opportunity for parent/carer's and their families. Many of the families we support slip through so many nets to access such services, due to not meeting the criteria, but have the need. They face discrimination, accusations and stigma within the community and by professional services. I believe the validation of the programme gave many families a sense of place, belonging and identity. We worked in partnership with many activity resources and additional needs services. We even influenced the Fraser Centre to start providing sensory/ relaxation cinema screening for children with additional needs. I then went on to support them on how to do this. We would like to repeat this model in 2023/2024,as it worked well and there is a need. We learned staying local and trying new things is a good 'Better Break' for our families. Focusing more on community, connection and relationships.
Children and Young people will have happy, positive memories of summer 2021. They will also have memory boxes and visual/audio journals to look back and reminisce. Also be allowed to dream and have a voice for family plans in 2022. They will have kept in contact and made friendships.
The summer fun programme created a fun, energetic and sensitive activity programme to meet the needs of the children. We did this by asking families and children what they wanted, needed and created the programme with all this in mind. We gave a selection and choice and this gave the children time to build confidence, explore, grow and try new things and meet new people and slowly make friendships. We had between 85- 95% family attendance throughout the whole programme. This evidenced a safe and happy community connection. Where many children find it very hard to socialise and find their own sense of place in a group. Some children just like being on their own, but felt included and participated in their own way at their own pace. The first week many of the children were nervous, silent and unsure. However by week five and at the re-union a much stronger connection was made. You could see this in their smiles,chats,remembering names and with their increased confidence and evaluation.
Parent and her son with autism (8 years) and daughter/ young carer (10 Years). The son does not meet the criteria for the special needs summer playscheme, however has complex needs. Mum is a single parent and has very little support. She got to a point most activities resulted in returning home early, with little success. This impacted on all the families mental health and wellbeing. The programme meant her son could participate in the activity and have fun. However if he needed time out that was fine and he had safe spaces to do this. There were also options of play, arts and crafts or if just needed to play games on his phone. Mum could be with him and let her daughter participate and enjoy. Where appropriate some of the other parents would care for her son and allow her a break and also quality time to spend with her daughter. If her son had a melt down, there was support, time and space to help him recover and take part again. She felt there was no stigma and this helped towards very happy and successful days out.
Parent/Carer's have access to more breaks from caring, support services and resources. Also can self – manage a variety of ways and time they see as a break from caring. Young Carers also have a carers assessment, resources and support in their own right and to feel happy and enjoy life.
The parent/carers said the programme was amazing and helped them greatly as carers and increased their confidence. They made friendships and felt non stigmatised. One said "we are now a tribe and feel powerful and not judged." Having a break from organising and accessing suitable activities was of great benefit. Many parents' said sometimes it was too difficult to do and found it easier, just to stay at home. The siblings said it was great to just able to do good activities, without having to leave early. For three young carers and four families it was their first ever cinema experience. Giving both carers and young carers the confidence to try new things and seek out more sensory friendly activities.
One family ( Mum and Dad and three children) had their first family cycling experience. The inclusive cycling meant there were adapted bikes and even non cycling children could participate directly with their family. The family were not aware this was available to them locally and now attending the cycling group regularly as a family.This has greatly improved their mental and physical wellbeing together.
Combating parent/carer isolation and loneliness by meeting other parent/carers and forming positive relationships and friendships. They are feeling more empowered and confident to access supports and services and understand their rights as carers. The message of self – care and the confidence to all
All the parent/carer's stated they got on well meeting all the other parent/carers. After verbal feedback they stated the introduction day and having lunches together really helped this. A couple kept themselves to themselves, but still enjoyed the energy and being close to families. This combating isolation and loneliness. Participating in a summer project helped fill the summer time holidays and gave families something to look forward to weekly. The parent/carers said it helped their mental and physical wellbeing and reduced their carers stress and anxiety. Knowing the summer programme was in place and not having to worry about costs. Many said it has given them the confidence to try new things and challenge services and them to be more sensory family friendly.
At the final re-union theatre trip. One child was stressed, anxious and hyperactive. We had a spare seat, this gave him some more room. Mum just wanted to leave, but with support and options she coped better and the whole family managed to watch the theatre production together. She said she had avoided anything like this before and now has made friends from the group and they plan to try new activities like this together.
Children and families enjoying and experiencing new activities as a family or on their own out in the community. Improved physical and emotional wellbeing and confidence. Breaking down the barriers of stigma and discrimination, by having a voice and face in the community.
We had very high and successful attendance. We kept in contact weekly with families and tried to address any issues with them. If anything changed we would try and be flexible and meet their needs and offer extra support. This level of nurturing helped families participate and find solutions. The activities were often physically active, but we had options and this reduced the demands for everyone. We also bought and provided mobile chill zone tents and sensory toys/ blankets that we took with us. This was also a safety and care net for all. As the programme went on you could see and feel the increased confidence and improved wellbeing within all of the families. The second - re-union activity was in a park with a outdoor activity specialist. The group was very visual and many members of the public came and spoke to the families and asked what we were doing. Families felt it helped raise their profile and help combat stigma of families and children with additional needs.
Our Alpaca celebration and certificate day, was a opportunity for families to share their memory boxes. Only a couple brought them along. However the families did keep me updated at what they were doing at home and sharing. We had a Sonic the Hedgehog theme and one wee boy brought or made something related to Sonic the Hedgehog at every event. This gave him a connection and identity with the other children and families. Highlighting the normality and that it is ok to have something you are fascinated with.