A story by Quarriers- Aberdeenshire Carer Support Service
Quarriers delivered short breaks to 19 carers and 7 children with disabilities from Aberdeenshire. Three group activity sessions and a weekend residential retreat enabled carers and young people to learn, have fun, try new things, improve their wellbeing and enjoy a break from their normal routine.
What Go Together did
“Go Together” project delivered 4 sessions to 7 families including the carer and cared for. The first 3 provided learning and social opportunities in Aberdeenshire with respite included. The final was a 3-night residential outdoor retreat for the whole family in the Highlands. Included, Thainstone House Hotel, Inverurie, Meet & Greet, to introduce families to the project and each other. Meldrum House Hotel, Old Meldrum.
A learning session on "Effective Communication" delivered by Positive and Active Behaviour Scotland on creative ways to help cared for with additional support needs express their feelings. Meldrum House Hotel, Old Meldrum, Positive and Active Behaviour Scotland workshop enabling carers to create a “passport” of their cared for to help with communication and independence. All sessions included supported play for children inc. trampolining and bowling.
Badaguish Outdoor Centre, Aviemore, Residential retreat where families experienced new outdoor activities, themed workshops, Ceilidh, holistic treatments, mindfulness and more. Beneficiary criteria included families with those of complex needs, at transition stage, supporting cared for under five and challenged by deprivation.
Support plans identified outcomes and existing staff relationships helped identify and address barriers to participation. Success obtained by partnership working with other agencies and volunteers and giving families time to bond and build confidence to support each other as a group. Families were consulted throughout to tailor each event to their specific needs with personalised itineraries and a choice of activities, food, accommodation, travel etc..
An experienced team of trusted staff, volunteers and a qualified caterer were there on each step of the journey to ensure the whole break experience was as fulfilling as possible for individuals, families and as a group. The additional inclusion of a video offers a unique memento of the weekend and a chance for the group to come together again for a screening. Increased confidence, social connections and communication were the greatest outcomes for families.
What Quarriers- Aberdeenshire Carer Support Service has learned
Project Planning and Budgeting- We learnt the importance of thorough planning but had underestimated how much time it would require. In the future, we would allocate more regular time to a project alongside our existing roles.
Developing new short break activities- We have learnt that logistics would be smoother if we reduced the number of activities and considered a location closer to families homes. We would also plan that future breaks included accommodation in singular family units. It proved to be a challenge for some families to share living space.
Dealing with unexpected challenges or opportunities- We learnt the importance of managing expectations of some participants. There can be a mismatch of perception in what the project provides and what is wished for. Additional guidelines and contracts would be useful next time around.
How Quarriers- Aberdeenshire Carer Support Service has benefitted from the funding
Develop new partnerships- The funding allowed us to build a good working relationship with Positive and Active Behaviour Scotland and to get experience and evidence of the effectiveness of the communication passport. We look to roll this out to other areas and carer support needs in our service in the coming year. The success of the passports will create new support avenues for our organisation and those we work with. Secured other funding- We used fund raised funds from the service to put together a Wellbeing Pack - a small basket of toiletries for the family to use or take home as an extra touch. This allowed for special added value to the overall project. Build your skills, knowledge or capacity- Securing and running the project has brought invaluable project skills and knowledge to the team members. We learnt so much from the planning and execution that could not have been gained in another format. Through the actual doing, we gained invaluable experience.
Children and young people with disabilities in remote and rural areas within Aberdeenshire will have had the opportunity to have fun, make friend and engage in more activities.
Outcome successfully achieved in our three learning sessions and the residential. Learning sessions enabled 7 young people to share lunch together and to engage in bowling, trampoline and crafts with staff, independent from carers and in a group. On the residential, they had extended times for Outdoor and Indoor activities such as adventure parks, Segway’s, Quad Biking, Nature Walks, Ceilidh, Theatre Workshop, Family Motto creation, Mindfulness, Arts & Crafts, Shared Meals. Much of this could be done alongside the cared for and carer of the family and other families. Nature kits to take home, encouraged being outdoors and exploring. With all costs covered, experienced staff familiar and having trusted relationships with young people and every part of the programme tailored to individual needs the barriers of finance, confidence and access were removed. The whole sequence of events created for the children and young people with disabilities offered fun, friendships and new experience
Young carer B is a brother of an autistic sibling. The family must curtail many of their activities due to the needs of their cared for child who has autism. On his initial evaluation B mentioned he can often feel left out but the residential allowed him to spend relaxed times with his autistic brother and also older brother. His older brother fed back that he 'enjoys spending time with my brothers.' Alongside children of his own age, B and his 2 brothers mixed in and tried many different activities. On B’s feedback at the end, he said he has 'learnt to make friends.' B’s brother struck up a good friendship and support network with a younger autistic cared for child on the residential. Mum said : 'We enjoyed the chance to bond with other families and the Quarriers staff. It was nice to take time away and to enjoy as a family. It was good to try things outside of the comfort zone. I appreciate being with other families who are experiencing similar difficulties. The setting is idyllic and calming. It has been so good to spend time in a setting like this with other families who have the same stresses. I did not worry about my son this weekend as I felt all the other parents understood the behaviour and would be more accepting.'
Carers will feel less stressed and more confident and the children and young people being cared for will have fun and expand their social circle.
The three learning sessions and the residential provided opportunities for 7 children and 19 carers to mix and share activities. The project was designed to ensure each family’s needs were included and any anxieties or barriers understood and addressed. A “meet and greet” event helped develop a group bond, with many carers finding common ground and beginning to relax in each other’s company ahead of the residential. Shared lunches for the adults and fun activities for the young people provided more opportunities for socialising and a break for carers. Learning sessions also built carers confidence as they developed new tools for supporting those cared for. On the residential this was taken further with a balance of wellbeing and active leisure on offer. Shared outdoor Adventure, quad biking, Segways, Ceilidh, nature walks, mindfulness, holistic treatments, yoga, arts and crafts, theatre and drama, sing-a-longs and shared meals were well received, and all participated throughout.
We asked families to tell us about their challenges and then talk a little about the impact of the Go Together programme in helping them with their anxieties and social networks. First session feedback for Family A prior to residential: ‘Very stressful having to watch the wee man and divide myself between my two sons with different needs.’ After residential feedback Family A: ‘Surprised at how my son behaved in certain activities- dancing at the ceilidh. I met new people and I’ve accomplished something by taking my son away somewhere.’ First session feedback for Family F: ‘It is quite stressful making sure all the children get time and they need different types of attention. Also other people do not understand why I let them behave that way and they judge.’ After residential feedback from Family F: ‘It is OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes- get tips from others on how to help. It is possible to mix with others when your family finds situations difficult- people are accepting. Good to see how well the boys mixed with others and see how confident they are.’ First session feedback from Family C: ‘Whole family has disturbed sleep due to daughter’s anxiety. Other daughter has Melatonin and other wakes at 4 am. I do not feel professionals understand. The doctors do not see what I see and she has not been diagnosed.’ After residential feedback from Family C: ‘I got more confidence that we are not alone- problems with school etc. I made new friends who do not judge me and do not get fed up with the cared for. The cared for learnt how to interact with each other and other children and not stayed in own little group.’ 5 families completed our base line scoring on levels of stress in their caring role. At the first “Go Together” session the majority, 90%, scored themselves in the medium to high category. By the end of the programme 50%, half of them, had reduced their stress levels to low – a significant reduction of feelings of anxiety after taking part in the programme. We asked families to tell us about their challenges and then talk a little about the impact of the Go Together programme in helping them with their anxieties and social networks. First session feedback for Family A prior to residential: ‘Very stressful having to watch the wee man and divide myself between my two sons with different needs.’ After residential feedback Family A: ‘Surprised at how my son behaved in certain activities- dancing at the ceilidh. I met new people and I’ve accomplished something by taking my son away somewhere.’ First session feedback for Family F: ‘It is quite stressful making sure all the children get time and they need different types of attention. Also other people do not understand why I let them behave that way and they judge.’ After residential feedback from Family F: ‘It is OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes- get tips from others on how to help. It is possible to mix with others when your family finds situations difficult- people are accepting. Good to see how well the boys mixed with others and see how confident they are.’ First session feedback from Family C: ‘Whole family has disturbed sleep due to daughter’s anxiety. Other daughter has melatonin and other wakes at 4am. I do not feel professionals understand. The doctors do not see what I see and she has not been diagnosed.’ After residential feedback from Family C: ‘I got more confidence that we are not alone- problems with school etc. I made new friends who do not judge me and do not get fed up with the cared for. The cared for learnt how to interact with each other and other children and not stayed in own little group.’ 5 families completed our base line scoring on levels of stress in their caring role. At the first “Go Together” session the majority, 90%, scored themselves in the medium to high category. By the end of the programme 50%, half of them, had reduced their stress levels to low – a significant reduction of feelings of anxiety after taking part in the programme. General feedback after residential: A fantastic opportunity, I do not feel stressed here. No-one judges when cared for son runs around, everyone able to relax. Relaxed atmosphere and able to chat to one another, relaxed and met similar families and created a sigh of relief, nice to meet other people who go through the same as us. Do not feel alone as the hardest thing was to lose friends when daughter diagnosed, you were made to feel at ease and it did not matter if kids did not behave. Relaxed. The Go Together Project has thought of all the aspects of going on a trip and minimised the stress involved, relaxed, accepting group of families made my stress level drop, nice because feel other people understand. Do not feel alone and to come together means a lot. I have met a parent who feels the same as me, huge boost in confidence, going home feeling more energised and able to deal with life better, taking time away to enjoy as a family. Realise that Yoga can be fun Our son enjoyed playing with older boys and joined in their games. Lovely to see other children choosing to spend time with him too, new friends we would of not met otherwise
Carers will have benefit from opportunities to take a break from their caring role and enjoy doing activities they chose. Carers will have more opportunities to meet and socialise with other carers and benefit from peer support.
We held three learning sessions before the residential. This allowed the families to get to know each other over informal learning before we undertook the residential. In addition, the children had the chance to meet and play on those sessions. This was done independently of the 19 carers and allowed for respite and time for carers to take a break knowing that the young people were having fun with trusted and familiar staff. On the residential, as well as family pursuits, there were activities the carers could do by themselves whilst staff supervised the children. Families were consulted in the planning of the programme to ensure activities were appealing and appropriate and to encourage inclusion. These included holistic treatments, mindfulness, yoga and times when their cared for was entertained on separate activities. This allowed time for respite and opportunities to connect with fellow carers and allow peer support to emerge in a relaxed informal manner.
Parent Carer A is usually very reluctant to try new things and can be socially isolated. The team put in a lot of support to ensure she could come alongside her Mother, two sons and her cared for son. At the initial meet, she had written that she often feels judged and only feels confident in her caring role when in the confines of her own home. On the residential there was a lot of social mixing with all her children and herself. She fed back that she liked: ‘she could speak to other people who do not judge her. She was surprised her son behaved well on many activities. She met many new people and feels she has accomplished something by taking her son away. “I have more confidence that we are not alone. Problems with schools etc. I have made new friends who do not judge my cared for or me and is not fed up with my son. My son learnt how to interact with other children and to not stay in his own little group.’ The whole family mixed in with the wide group and this allowed for new experiences and perceptions to be formed.
Carers will have improved knowledge of additional support available to them and how to access it. They will also have the benefit of peer support from other carers in Aberdeenshire.
The learning sessions allowed for new support in the realm of communication and the creation of a communication “passport” that helps those they care for to more easily share their preferences, likes, dislikes, challenges and needs with those around them and in turn better manage new situations and environments. Passports have proven effective at reducing some of the more stressful outcomes experienced by carers of those with additional support needs when they are away from home. There was lots of opportunity for discussion, group and peer support amongst the 19 carers and staff. There was a good balance of planned activities and free time for the carers to mix and learn from each other, many carers made new friendships and built their own confidence in an environment where they did not feel judged. The group were eager to meet post- residential for a screening (delayed by Covid-19) of the video created from the weekend, highlighting the desire to maintain and strengthen friendships
Feedback from the families indicate the success of additional support and the experience of peer support: first session prior to the residential: Family H, My level of stress can be very high in my caring role. Some people do not understand some of the challenges that you can face.' After last session, eating meals with other families was very relaxing. The Sunday was lovely for me with the Yoga session in the morning then the Mindfulness in the afternoon and finally the singsong at the end. All of us families are in the same kind of boat as carers and children.' General feedback at the end of residential: Family C ‘Staff have made me feel confident to mingle, helped with kids and support me as a parent. I have gained confidence. Made great friends and bonded with staff members. Know that other families are in same position and going forward with new friendships. I feel more relaxed and less stressed. Learned a lot from the break and my confidence has improved from being with other Mum's. I liked the sessions leading to the weekend as it broke the ice and for getting to know other families. Liked the ceilidh as everyone joined in.' Family A: 'New friends we wouldn't have met otherwise. I would not have survived my caring role without all the support and information that Quarriers has given me over the years." Family F: 'It is OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes and to get tips on how to cope from others. It is possible to mix with others when your family finds situations difficult. People here are accepting and it is good to see how the boys mixed with others and how confident they were. Felt better for talking to others that are going through the same kinds of things. It is a nice break to meet other people. I liked how helpful and friendly everyone is and how they try to help as much as they can.' Family G: 'Like that people can find out information for you instead of telling you to speak to someone else. Speak to people who do not judge you.' Family B: 'We like knowing that the boys have a person they can speak to about any issues they face in their caring role. This weekend has been super for building on those bonds.'
Additional project outcome
Peer support for carers, children and young people. Families in the "Go Together" project continue to meet up and share information, support each other and have a break from their day to day caring role as a group.
Families feedback after the residential highlighted new friendships being made, children bonding and the positive impact for carers to find a non-judgemental peer group. Asked to name 3 things they would take away from the project new friendships featured consistently including: appreciating being together with other families experiencing similar difficulties, new friends that we wouldn’t have met otherwise It’s possible to mix with others when your family finds situations difficult – people are accepting, made new friends who don’t judge me and don’t get fed up with the cared for (young people) learnt how to interact with each other and other children and not stay in own little group Since returning from the residential 2 families who live near to each other have kept in regular touch, helping each other out with filling in forms and looking after pets! Families also requested support to facilitate a post-residential gathering and were keen to maintain and grow relationships and bonds made over the weekend. A showcase screening of the residential video was scheduled to accommodate this but has been delayed due to the impact of Covid-19 and subsequent lock-down and will be rescheduled as soon as is safe to do so. The service have now made plans for a virtual screening for families in June before the film is used as part of social media around Carer week later in the month.
Additional project outcome
Enabling carers to overcome barriers to accessing breaks away with their cared for.
Due to the extra support put in as regards emotional support, finances, accommodation of extra family member and travel, one Family E were able to come to the residential. The Mother remarked she would have never done anything like this without the support of the service. She was surprised at how those she cares for interacted and enjoyed himself with the other families. She was able to socialise and relax with people she did not know. This was a new situation for her and allowed her to gain peer support and confidence. This also had positive outcomes for her children who are young carers and the cared for to see each other in a different environment trying out new activities. She remarked she would feel more confident to take her family away again.