Me and Thee Time
A story by Parent to Parent
We provided opportunities for families caring for a child with additional needs living in Tayside to enjoy activities together with other families or for parents together.
Activities included picnics, farm visits, zoo, dance classes, Christmas shopping trips, pantomimes, meals, party night and Santa.
What Me and Thee Time did
We provided opportunities for families to get together during school holidays and for parents of children with disabilities to meet during term time. 40 carers and 34 disabled children from Tayside who were isolated and had few opportunities to meet others were invited to the activities which included trips to a farm, wild-life centre, parks, dance classes, soft-play centre and go-karting. The families also went to the panto and enjoyed a party with Santa at Christmas.
Initially we planned to provide places for 30 children within 6 groups but our support workers identified more families who would benefit from the project. With the support of volunteers and staff within Parent to Parent we were able to provide places to 34 children. We had planned to provide 24 sessions across the 3 areas but were able to run 29.
Comments from parents proved the project had been very successful and met the needs of many families. The carers enjoyed meeting other carers and found the contact with people with similar experiences beneficial. We had planned to run one session per term in each of the three areas but, due to requests from parents for more opportunities to meet and some availability within the budget, we were able to increase the sessions to weekly between January and March.
Activities for carers included manicure, cinema, meals out, a party night at Christmas, Christmas shopping and cake demonstration. We recruited 5 volunteers who were keen to help at the activities and assisted with transport, playing with the children, serving refreshments and tidying up after the play sessions.
The project met several of the priority areas for Better Breaks, disabled children with additional needs will benefit, will take part in sport and active leisure and will enjoy a social life outside the family home, harder to reach groups will benefit, families caring for young disabled children will benefit and projects that develop a new short break service than can provide a template for others to follow.
What Parent to Parent has learned
The planning of the project worked well. The support workers asked their families what they would like to do and used that to plan a programme of activities. We needed less money for activities than planned. This was partly due to entrance fees being smaller than anticipated, some organisations giving us free tickets and parents choosing activities with no charge.
We found that additional help was required and staff were needed to provide transport when there were insufficient volunteers. Our support workers’ knowledge of their families enabled them to select those is the greatest need of support and those who would be able to take part in the project. Many of these needed extra help to travel to the activity and to care for their children at the activity when they had more than one child. We were able to accommodate this by using staff when there were insufficient volunteers.
The “Me-time” project was slow to start and found that meeting twice per term was not enough to build friendships and provide the break parents were seeking. In the last three months we ran more groups every week or fortnight and these helped to create good friendships which will last beyond the time of the grant. Several carers asked if they could introduce new carers to their group as they were aware of someone who would benefit from meeting others and having a break. We were able to accommodate these carers and the support worker gave individual advice and was able to sign-post them to other agencies that could help them.
We worked in partnership with several organisations. Dundee Disabled Children’s Association provided their premises free of charge for a summer games day, a hotel provided a room for parents to meet and the Byre Theatre in St. Andrews gave free panto tickets. Volunteers helped with transport and assisting the support workers.
The only unexpected challenge was to encourage carers to think of opportunities for themselves rather than just their children. They were so focused on their children they did not recognise their own needs. It took the support workers a few months to encourage them to put themselves first but once they had achieved this the “me-time” project went from strength to strength. The extra sessions provided in the final quarter of the project really helped to strengthen relationships and we are confident many friendships will continue beyond the period of the grant which will benefit carers and their children.
As a result of the playdates and the Me-time planning the support workers will have done with the families it is anticipated that the families will have the confidence to organise and participate in their own playdates and me-time. Parents will organise get-togethers at weekends and school holidays.
During the year many parents organised get-together's outwith the project. Small groups of between 2 and 4 families came together to try new activities or repeat one they had enjoyed as part of the larger group. The project finished at the end of March but several families organised get-together's for the Easter break with visits to local parks and the cinema popular as they were easy to organise. One of the Angus group of parents meet for lunch every month and other groups exchanged numbers so they could contact each other to arrange get-together's. The Dundee groups have arranged to hire the cinema room in a community centre on several occasions. They were unaware of the facility until they were invited to a film show through the Better Breaks funding programme. This costs just £10 to hire, parents bring their own films and they are able to relax as the children won’t disturb other users and the families understanding the children’s needs. They will continue to meet at weekends and school holiday
Three families who lived in the same area came together several times in-between the school holidays. They had recognised the whole family had benefited from shared activities and were keen to develop friendships not only between the parents but also the children. They organised a couple of planned activities and also several last-minute get-together's while the project was running and have continued to do so after it ended. They have formed strong friendships and say they do not feel isolated any more. The mums meet every week and gain a lot of support from each other.
Parents will feel less stressed and more confident about taking their children to mainstream activities. They will enjoy socialising with other parents and be more willing to organise get-together's for the parents’ group as well as for the families. They will be more relaxed and willing to try new things.
Parents have reported that they have really enjoyed meeting other families and being in a group has increased their confidence. Feedback on the evaluation forms showed that many carers were now willing to take their child out on their own as the experience had proved that support was there if they needed it e.g. one carer reported she had not taken her children to a panto before because she was nervous about how they would react to the noises. They all enjoyed the experience and she plans to take them again this year. Knowing the support worker was making all the arrangements relieved much of the stress and carers were able to relax and enjoy the experience. A group in Dundee and another in Perth now meet every month for breakfast. They have introduced new parents to their group who are also benefiting from relaxing with other people who understand the stresses and difficulties associated with caring for a child with an additional needs.
The support worker invited a mum of two children with additional needs, one with Autism and the other with severe anxiety, to join her “me-time” group. The mum was very isolated and had few opportunities to meet other carers and make friends. The worker asked a volunteer to take her to and from the group and help her get to know the other carers. The mum really enjoyed the contact with others and agreed to go out with them to the Christmas party they had arranged. She had not experienced a night out in more than four years and found socialising difficult but felt able to go as part of a group. The volunteer offered to take her to the party and home afterwards which helped the mum as she was anxious about going into the party alone. The other carers were aware of her anxiety and two of them waited for her outside the venue so they could go in as a group which made her feel more confident. She thoroughly enjoyed the evening and is now playing a full part in the group, going to all the events arranged and starting to display more confidence in herself. She admits joining the group has helped her feel less anxious and worry less as she knows she can talk about her concerns with people who understand.
The parents will have formed friendships and will spend time with these friends enjoying activities that do not relate to caring e.g. enjoying a spa-day, going to the cinema or going out for lunch. These activities will encourage them to think of other ways they can come together out-with the group.
Several friendships were created from the breaks with both parents and children benefiting from a new relationship. There are now many groups of parents who meet regularly for breakfast, lunch or go out in the evening and they have introduced new members to their groups. Evening activities have included bingo, cinema and meals out. One of the Perth groups decided to organise a pop-up charity shop and donate the money raised to Parent to Parent. They enjoyed working together as a team and took great pride in providing customers with good service. They all thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have booked the shop for later in the year. This group of parents has established a bond and some strong friendships have developed from it.
Two families have become very good friends and support each other regularly. They met at the play dates and had a lot in common and the friendship grew over the summer. The families organised a day at the Safari Park and went to Edinburgh Zoo. The parents have enjoyed nights out together and they have invited each other to their homes for family days and for dinner for the parents. They have formed a strong bond and are confident this will be a lasting relationship which will benefit the whole family.
Parents will form friendships and spend time with these friends enjoying activities that do not relate to caring. These activities will encourage them to think of other ways they can come together out-with the group time. They will have the confidence to access ordinary places and ordinary activities.
The project provided a minimum of one support worker and one volunteer at all the short breaks so carers could get a rest and the children could enjoy activities with support. Outdoor activities included at least 3 helpers who provided transport and help to care for and play with the children. Parents helped each other too e.g. keeping an eye on one child while the mum had to devote all her time to another. The support workers were able to offer advice and give information when they identified that a parent was struggling to manage or cope with their child’s behaviour. They gave tips about strategies and coping mechanisms and were able to follow this with a home visit to give extra support and advice.
Several carers have formed new friendships and learned from each other. One of the support workers was able to introduce a single parent of a young child with Autism to another carer whose child was older. The support worker felt the mum of the older child understood the condition well and would be able to support the other mum who was struggling to come to terms with her child’s condition. The younger mum has found this invaluable as she feels able to ask questions she was reluctant to ask medical personnel. She now feels more confident to ask questions when she goes to medical appointments and has said that having someone who understands her situation is helping her to talk about it.
Local community assets will be used to facilitate the play dates and me-time.
We introduced carers and their families to local attractions and activities and made contact with the organisations in advance to ensure they could meet families’ needs. The trip to Camperdown Wildlife Park was a resounding success partly due to the staff’s willingness to meet the children’s needs. Parents now feel able to contact the park directly when they want to visit again as they know they will be welcomed. The majority of parents were unaware of the facilities their local community centres offered and once they knew what was available they were keen to continue to use them. The cinema room at Ardler Complex is now well used as well as community gardens and fitness rooms in the centres. These can be used at very low cost and many carers found them more inviting as carers found them less intimidating than the busy private gym.
A parent of a young girl with Autism was invited to join the group but was a bit reluctant due to her daughter’s behaviour when stressed. She could become stressed when she was in a large group of people and the mum was concerned that being with a group of families might be too much for he daughter. The support worker was aware that the mum and daughter were very isolated, mainly due to the girl’s unpredictable behaviour, and explained that a volunteer would be there to help and the mum and daughter could spend time on their own if the girl started to become stressed. The mum agreed to go to the session arranged for Camperdown Park and Wildlife centre in Dundee. She thought being outside and in a large park might help to keep the girl calm. The support worker and volunteer ensured that the girl could spend time outwith the group and she was able to join in when she felt comfortable and able to do so. She really enjoyed seeing the animals in the wildlife centre and at the end of the day the mum said she felt able to take her there again as she had coped so well with the experience. The mum and daughter joined in the group activities when the girl felt able to do so but were able to sit outside the group when the mum felt the girl was not coping. The mum agreed to go to future activities organised by Parent to Parent that allowed her daughter space when she needed it. The mum said she felt better knowing her daughter had enjoyed her day out and she felt happy seeing her daughter enjoy herself.
More external partners will be offering accessible opportunities for families.
Parent to Parent has produced a report and evaluation of the Better Breaks experience which highlights the benefits to families caring for a child with an additional need. This has been distributed to statutory and voluntary agencies.
One of the support workers contacted an organisation that runs dance classes for children and young people. She asked if she would organise a class for her group of families and the person readily agreed. She provided a two hour class for 8 young people and five parents.