A story by Barnardo's 'known as' Barnardo's Scotland
Nature buddies provided 8-16 year olds with disabilities in Dundee an opportunity to explore nature through play, encouraging an appetite for the outdoors. These groups were able to provide essential respite for families and the children gained new experiences, friendships, skills and memories.
What Nature Buddies did
Due to the impacts of COVID-19 we had to be creative with our initial planning. Instead ran 2x weekly groups for 6 weeks alongside a final fun day Celebration. Weekly after school groups ran from a local school, children were picked up, dropped off by Barnardo's staff, to allow more respite time.
Initially the groups ran according to age however to better meet the needs and level of development we changed the groups.
We provided activities in conjunction with local organisations in the community. These activities included willow weaving at the local hospital garden, education re Bee’s and pond dipping at the rock garden, other activities included a beach clean, arts & crafts using items we found at the beach, Treasure Hunts, erecting tents, Tree art, s’mores, water activities & outdoor sports and fishing. We ended the 6 weeks with a fun day at a local wildlife park where the children and families were invited to celebrate with us, face painting, BBQ, Parachute games, nature trails, party games and a presentation of resource pack which included tents, waterproof jackets, boots, blankets and grow your own herb kits.
We supported families who are impacted by disability, The children were either part of Barnardo's service or identified to us by schools. We provided opportunities for children to have fun, learn, build friendships, and gain new experiences. We provided tea which allowed for more respite for the carers, providing some personal time, time with friends and to do things such as have a relaxing meal with their partners or friends.
We utilised both volunteers and staff from Barnardo's, who are trained in all aspects of Health & safety & Child protection. They have experience in running groups and working with children and young people with disabilities and ASN.
What Barnardo's 'known as' Barnardo's Scotland has learned
Whilst planning and delivering these groups we learned that through partnership working within Dundee we have the potential to deliver more services to those that need it. We contacted various outdoor learning providers as well as local charities who have space and services within the communities that our young people live. We have developed new relationships with these services and will use these resources going forward. As well as the young people now having knowledge of these activities on offer the parents can also utilise them.
Whilst having discussions with parents it was clear that there is a need for more accessible after school community based provision for children with ASN that benefits the family as a whole. This is where collaborative working will really take effect, utilising other services in the area to provide these groups. We have a relationship with a primary school who allow us to run these groups from the school, having a similar group in multiple localities would benefit more of the communities and families/carers would not have to worry about travel. Parent groups can also be set up alongside if required to provide them with peer support and allow time for socialising with likeminded parents/carers. We plan to build on this within our alliance based working across Dundee.
One of the difficulties and challenges we faced setting up these groups was the impact of Covid and the ever changing guidance. We learned to adapt the original plans to ensure we still met the outcomes of the group but in a shorter time frame. The weekly challenge of staff attendance was another difficulty due to staff being contacted by track and trace or being unwell themselves. To combat this, we had a standby list of staff and volunteers who would step in to help support the groups. Staff who work for Barnardo’s core service were utilised when required to ensure the smooth running of the groups and no negative impact to the young people or carers. Our Covid risk assessment and procedures were constantly updated to ensure staff and young people were kept safe at all times in regards to social distancing following government guidance.
How Barnardo's 'known as' Barnardo's Scotland has benefitted from the funding
The funding has not only helped the young people and carers as previously mentioned but it has allowed Barnardo's an opportunity to build an alliance with other services in the community to work on providing groups in the future, to support children and carers within multiple localities and who may otherwise miss these opportunities. The partnership with the primary school will continue and this will grow into other schools. It has given us confidence and a knowledge base to go forward with a new service of the “Connect groups” which will expand our services and support other young people in different localities, these groups will be run in conjunction with other agencies in Dundee and not just Barnardo's therefore providing more knowledge and experience to the groups.
We will support 20 children with a disability to participate in outdoor activity sessions. Each child will have the opportunity to participate in every activity. Nature Buddies will provide opportunities to build social connectedness, physical and mental wellbeing, independence, and lots of fun.
We provided 20 children with the opportunity to participate in various outdoor themed activities with other children in the community. We did this in a safe environment with staff they knew and had relationships with. Activities were adapted to promote participation, offering each child additional encouragement and support as required. At times staff were linked 1to1 to provide the support required and this was done in a sensitive form not to raise awareness to others that the child required additional support. Many new friendships were formed during these groups with parents swapping contact details to arrange for the children to keep in touch. The friendships formed helped when trying to encourage group/team work. Some of these children had not travelled on public transport previously or been many places in the city. These activities have given them knowledge of activities they can do in the area. Feedback from parents has been that they have felt their child was socially included
One child who attended has separation anxiety and struggles to leave his mum, he also suffers from night seizures and chooses to sleep in mum's room. After week 1 attending the groups he would count down the minutes and remind his mum that Barnardo's would be coming to pick him up soon. This was a welcome surprise for mum as she was initially unsure if he would attend. He has used the tent to sleep in most nights and has now moved the tent into his own room and no longer chooses to sleep in his mum's room. He really benefited from this group not only for those reason mentioned previously but he made a friend at the group and the parents exchanged contact details and they meet up regularly, as do the parents.
We will run the project at a time and date that suits the parent/carers and ensure resources are in place, whether it is transport or anything else they require, in order to access and benefit from the project.
We took onward the feedback regarding the timing of the groups we offered and understood that the most hectic part of the day of was the school run and preparing meals. Carers have had opportunities to eat out away from the home with partners and friends and participate in activities they normally would miss. Carers were grateful we did the school pick up and dropped the children home, It was warming to see how much the parents were excited to see their children when dropped off home and how refreshed and upbeat they were. Parents really enjoyed listening to what the children had done during the group and enjoyed sharing with us and their child what they had done with their free time. It allowed the parents to engage with us at the end of the day and build positive relationships which will be beneficial when taking the children on the residential weekend.
One of the young people who attended the teen group has a fractious relationship with her mum, She is going through a period of change in her life where she is unsure of who she is or who she identifies as. She has disengaged with many services in the past and mum has previously spoken to Barnardos about the concerns she has with her daughter being able to attend groups due to her working pattern and perhaps not managing on public transport herself. To alleviate this concern, we arranged for the young person to be collected from school by a member of staff who she was familiar with and dropped off at home after the group. This was at no cost to mum and eased her anxieties more so. Due to the theme and funding provided the young people attending the group were given a waterproof jacket and boots amongst other resources. This specific parent was extremely grateful for this as the young person has previously refused to wear jackets. “Really loves jacket – usually struggles to wear jackets”. Mum also advised us that she and her daughter have spent many nights camping in the garden with the tent that was provided, and they will look at camping trips in the future. Their relationship is improving since these groups have provided a new interest for the young person when being outdoors, mum has enjoyed hearing about the adventures and has taken a keen interest to allow her and her daughters relationship flourish. Since this group the young person has worked positively with Barnardo’s workers who continue to facilitate the transport on behalf of mum and encourage independence by using public transport when possible. We also discussed the future potential for the weekend residential with both the young person and mum. Both agreed this would be a great idea and would love the opportunity to participate together and continue to build on their relationship whist learning new skills. Again transport was a concern for mum when planning days or weekends away and knowing this would be organised for them was a relief to mum.
Parents/carers will have the opportunity to experience meaningful respite to spend “me” time with siblings, pursuing personal interests, spending time with a partner or loved ones, or time out with friends. Whilst knowing their child is having fun, learning new skills, making friends and are safe.
Feedback received from parents and carers was that they were able to engage in interests and have well needed respite from their caring role. They told us that they were able to spend more time especially at mealtimes with their loved ones, Providing more time and less pressure and as a result more opportunities to reconnect. Some parents have enjoyed meeting friends for coffee, going for a walk or food and has helped their mental wellbeing to have the time to let their hair down. One parent shared with us that he was able to do some overtime at work which has eased his worries about providing for his family at Christmas. This group was specifically chosen to run at this time to ensure we acted on the feedback received regarding the school run and meal times being difficult. Parents also advised some of the children were going home tired and sleeping better as they had been outdoors and keeping active, they hope to keep this up themselves to encourage the better sleeping pattern.
Using the same family as case Study 1 this has had a major positive impact on the family’s routine. The young person has more confidence and independence due to making a friend at the group and the tent has allowed him to feel safe and manage his separation anxiety at bed time enough to sleep alone, when he chooses to sleep in his own room his mum is having well needed and deserved “me time” Space to unwind and enjoy relaxing in her room. She has also made friends with the parent of the young boy and gives her someone to spend time with whilst the boys do an activity either in the home or in the community. They both have tents and are planning on a sleep over with the tents.