First Step Initiative
A story by Camp and Trek
The First Step Initiative project supported young carers affected by parental substance misuse take part in a residential activity weekend on the Isle of Skye. The project ran in partnership with Connecting Young Carers and allowed the young people time to learn more about themselves developing healthy coping mechanisms for the future.
Camp & Trek was founded with the aim of offering opportunities to participate in outdoor adventurous activities to disadvantaged young people. We reach out to young people who either through poverty, neglect, family breakdown, too much responsibility at an early age, learning difficulties or physical disabilities have limited access to the Great Outdoors. Connecting Young Carers is a Highland wide organisation that works to raise awareness, identification and support for Young Carers.
What First Step Initiative did
Having worked together in the past Camp & Trek and Connecting Young Carers felt that by harnessing the expertise and experience from both organisations it would be possible to put together a locally ground breaking initiative that could be highly beneficial to a particular group of young carers and children affected by parental substance misuse.
Connecting Young Carers consulted with young carers and a group of young carers affected by parental substance misuse in regards to designing the schedule for a 5 day residential with a therapeutic element. This included picking the venue, activities and also taking part in a wellbeing day helping to design and approve the therapeutic exercises.
The break was then networked to all social work departments and secondary schools in Highlands with a view to young carers being referred for this opportunity. Connecting Young Carers recruited 4 additional workers for that specific week away to cover night times and provide 1:1 support as and when it was required for young people who were struggling.
The residential took place at the Abernethy Trust’s Nethybridge Activity Centre and the schedule included two day activities and an evening activity. These ranged from canoeing to zip-wiring, abseiling, gorge walking and an adventure course. In between outdoor pursuits the young people worked with two art therapists delivering wellness activities and exercises around building resilience and coping mechanisms. The week also included regular swimming sessions in the pool on site and a DVD and popcorn night.
During the residential she spoke of feeling comfortable attending because she knew "everyone was in the same boat". There was initially an unspoken understanding between all the young people that they did not need to discuss why they were there (which in a way was quite comforting) but as the week progressed this young girl began to speak more openly about her home life and the various ups and downs they suffered as a family.
As a result the young people as a group became more comfortable revealing their caring roles and spoke openly about what made them angry and how they coped. This young person formed some very good friendships with young people she trusted. As a result of the break she is now more willing to engage with the various support services that she had previously rejected, including better engagement with school support service, her social worker and the Young Carer Project .
During his time away he said it was nice just to get some head space, let off some frustration and enjoy himself. He appeared to benefit most from the therapeutic sessions and by the end of the week could quite easily identify that his mother's struggles were not his fault, that the support he was providing was sufficient and that he could not control everything that happened.
He talked of feeling more relaxed about leaving school and maybe attending college at some point. He indicated that he was not too stressed about returning home and understood he could maintain a caring role/ life balance for just now.
The break away was the first holiday he has had in years and he appeared to grow in confidence with every activity. After the break was complete he indicated that he felt more comfortable in social situations and was happy for us to help him make contact with a local young carers group in his area and another youth club.
He now regularly attends these groups and has taken part in various social activities with them including laser tag and a curry night.
What Camp and Trek has learnedThe fund certainly enabled Connecting Young Carers to concentrate more fully and productively on the needs of young carers affected by parental substance misuse and prompted them as an organisation to look into developing a possible one:one mentoring service for higher end young carers.
There was disappointment with the fall in numbers that occurred a few days before the break and that these places could not readily be filled (sadly 4 of these absences occurred on the morning we departed.) In hindsight though workers and the young people who attended felt the final group size worked well and agreed that further respite trips of this nature worked better with a smaller group size.
It was found despite very early circulation of the event, that referrals arrived very slowly from health, social work and education. As a result of the several months of promotion Connecting Young Carers now feel that they have a better understanding of the agencies that can appropriately identify young carers and children affected by parental substance misuse and have subsequently started to receive more referrals of this nature.