Friends for Life Clubs
A story by VSA
We delivered The Friends for Life Clubs which are attended by children and young people aged 5- 20 years. The clubs take place in a centrally located venue so that the attendees can easily access community resources and parents/carers can have maximum benefit from their short break.
What Friends for Life Clubs did
The FFL clubs have been operational for many years and are accessed by children and young people who have wide ranging additional support needs. The clubs were suspended during the pandemic but resumed gradually over Easter, summer and October to offer a range of activities over the holiday periods, they have now fully re-opened and are operational on Saturdays.
The club has recently been relocated, but remains in a central well -equipped location which allows easy access for carers and also has the benefit of having community leisure resources within a short distance. Many of the staff have known the children for a number of years through ongoing attendance at the clubs.
The staff liaised with children and their families prior to the sessions to find out their likes/ dislikes and to forward plan activities. This also allowed staff to review the individual needs of children/ young people attending and access training on any health issues. Staff were also able to follow up a few new referrals to the clubs which they had been unable to do throughout the pandemic.
The children a range of activities including swimming, cinema, beach trips, tubing, bowling, silent discos and cooking. Whilst some of the activities were facilitated at the base, others were accessed using local transport and organised accessible buses.
During the time that the children and young people attended the club their parents and carers were ale to spend time with siblings, go shopping or head home to have few hours to themselves. In order for carers to have maximum benefit from their short break the staff also invited siblings along to the sessions. This allowed them to spend time in the company of their brother/ sister without having the additional caring responsibility.
Due to the changes in Covid restrictions staff have continued to review the numbers of children and young people attending to allow for appropriate social distancing and infection control procedures, whilst also prioritising individual health needs. Staff have commented about how well the children and young people have managed the additional responsibilities that they have had as a result of Covid.
What VSA has learned
Whilst it is not new learning the time taken to include parents, carers, children and young people in the planning has been hugely beneficial particularly during current circumstances. This has helped reassure everyone and gradually reintroduce a structure to their week that had been missing for almost 1 year.
The success and reputation of the clubs was recognised with new people seeking to join. We have also been able to help families plan for allocating their child's SDS budget. For those who are not entitled to SDS payments this has given us the opportunity to prepare a budget for the service and apply a reasonable future charge to ensure sustainability. VSA will also continue to look for additional grant funding and sponsors to allow us to supplement charges, provide additional materials and activities
How VSA has benefitted from the funding
VSA has a long standing history of delivering services to children in need. The Better Breaks funding has allowed us to provide a service that is of benefit to both children and their carers. Whilst some of our families are ale to meet the cost of the service through SDS payments, others do not qualify and so our communications and marketing team will continue to work with local funders and sponsors to ensure that we can support others to use the service.
Children and young people in Aberdeen will have a place to go to receive supported and involved activities that stimulate their learning and social development.
The children who attend the club have wide ranging additional support needs. Whilst they and their parents recognise the importance of inclusion, this can be overwhelming and so they choose to socialise with other young people who have similar issues. Over the years the children have developed friendships with other young people from different parts of the city. The children and their parents have been involved in selecting the club activities and have compiled a "wish list" for additional activities and resources. Over the pandemic the staff worked alongside parents and carers to gradually reintroduce the children and young people through use of smaller social bubbles. As the club is still observing some limitations and restrictions relating to social distancing and infection control we have not yet been able to reach maximum occupancy of 35 as our identified target. Our attendance over all age groups and carers benefitting is 23.
One of the young people who attends the FFL club has autism and complex learning needs. Whilst he prefers to be on his own and spends the majority of his time listening and dancing to music he is comfortable to do this at the club in the company of others. This activity is always structured into his session and staff use a time table and social story to communicate this to him
Carers of children and young people with disabilities will enjoy a life out with their caring role. Carers will receive a short break- up to 2 hours- away from their caring role and have the ability to access a greater depth of respite during this time.
All adult carers were in a position to leave their children at the club and take full benefit of a 2 hour break from their caring role. Some used this to do shopping at the local supermarket, others had planned activities with their other children and others went home to enjoy time to have a coffee or do housework without feeling that they were not attending to their child. Some siblings, also young carers, benefitted from time without having the responsibility of caring for their sibling. They were also invited, and took up the opportunity to join activities whilst staff attended to the needs of their brother/ sister. This allowed them the opportunity to join in the activity and socialise without any additional responsibility, enjoying the company of the group All carers were able to get maximum benefit from the short breaks as the staff facilitated short introduction sessions prior to the clubs resuming
One young man who attends the group has an older sibling who supports his mother with her caring role. The older sibling often tries to share tasks with his mother but she has commented that she does not want him to feel that she is reliant on him and stresses that he should also take time to be with friends. During one of the sessions mum was able to take time to meet a friend for coffee while both children participated in the "tubing" class, This was a favourite activity of the young carer and it allowed him time to enjoy the session and also see that his brother was also being supported by staff to participate.
Carers of children and young people with disabilities will feel better supported to sustain their caring role. Carers able to maintain their caring role due to respite availability Carers are aware of their rights, other services and are adequately supported
All parents commented that they had found it extremely difficult to maintain their caring roles throughout the pandemic. As some did not have allocated social workers they had very little, if any support during that time. Others were in receipt of online support but commented that at times they were exhausted and both their children and themselves needed the benefit of short break and the physical interaction with others. Everyone welcomed the gradual re-opening of the clubs and meeting again with the staff team. It is still planned to facilitate a session at the club and invite the Parent Carer Advisor from the local carers service to meet with parents as a group or individually.
Carly has very mild autism and finds it difficult to interact with peers. She does not qualify for SDS and does not meet thresholds for social work support. Her family are supported through the local carers service, however, this support has been online throughout the pandemic. Carly's parents commented that they have all benefitted from the re-opening of the FFL clubs and Carly has attended all sessions sine the re-opening. One carer was so distressed and was getting no help was at the point of suicide, she was told by local authorities that she did not qualify for any help but luckily came to the attention of the Carers service who passed the family onto me for help. This knock back by the local authority obviously distressed the carer even more. Because of short breaks we were able to offer her some respite for her ASN child. She was in such a state of distress she didn’t think she could trust us with her child, such was her anxiety. The child came, loved the club, and went home bursting with stories of what he did and mum said we had saved her life. Families like this should never feel they are alone and the club supports the networking and self-help gained by the parents. She now feels a little better and has peers to call when she is overwhelmed. This is the best by product the club can provide as it is not a forced network but a genuine one
Children and young people will have an increased level of opportunities to experience different leisure activities, making their own choices. Carers will have access to regular, reliable respite that they trust and are happy to send their child along to.
All children were consulted before the club re-opened to determine what activities they wanted to be included in the programme. Staff also met with the children and their carers to review health needs and take account of any issues that the child may have in re-joining the group. Parents commented that this was well managed and helped overcome any fears or answer any questions that they had about Covid, managing infection control and social distancing. The children also recognised that it would be helpful to have a number of outdoor activities and choose tubing, beach walks and tennis in their programme. Since then the children have also chosen to join the local tennis club. As mentioned parents were also extremely grateful of re-establishing a regular pattern of short breaks into their weekly calendar
The service evaluation was underpinned by GIRFEC well- being indicators. As part of their planning the children and staff researched the local area to find out what activities were available (responsible). When they contacted the local tennis court they were made very welcome (included) and after a trial session they went along on subsequent weeks and this has resulted in a few of the children buying individual memberships and attending weekly.(healthy, active, achieving)