Oban, Lorn and Isles Parent Carers' Time for Me
A story by North Argyll Carers Centre
We provide parent carers, the children they care for and the wider family group with time out from their routines to have fun together and socialise with other families. We also provide parent carers with some time out just for themselves, to relax, recharge, socialise and access support from peers.
What Oban, Lorn and Isles Parent Carers' Time for Me did
We delivered a monthly group for parent carers and their children at a local soft-play centre which also has a café on site. Children had the chance to play and meet their friends while parents enjoyed a ‘cuppa and a chat’ with other parent carers. This group has brought families together giving a safe environment for the children to meet up and play, establishing friendships and learning social skills. One of our Parent Carer Support Workers also attended each session to facilitate. They were and able to assist with supervision, giving parents access to peer support time and crucial time out from their caring roles to meet with other adults, relax and have the social interaction they miss day-to-day. It also helps the Parent Carer Team to get to know the families better which strengthens the relationships between them, increases trust and helps us really appreciate the challenges they face.
We ran 2 group days out. We involved the families in planning these visits so that the decision about where they went was based on the preferences of the carers and their children. Once again Blair Drummond was the location of choice because almost all of it is accessible, it offers interesting things to look at and learn about, with lots of variety, the 'drive-thru', the play area and lots of outdoor space.
We ran 2 spa days at a local spa hotel with afternoon tea and a treatment included. Parent carers were able to take some time out wholly for themselves, which gave space for them to focus on their own happiness, wellbeing and needs, making them feel special and valued.
What North Argyll Carers Centre has learned
In the past, when we had a spa day or day trip on offer, we promoted it and filled the places on a first come first served basis. This meant that the same families, who found it easier to respond quickly, would always get their names down and there would be few places for others. We needed to change this, so we decided to make places available only to newly registered carers on one of the days. That was good but meant that though they got to meet other newly registered carers they did not get the benefit of meeting up with carers who had been caring for a longer time and had valuable experience to share. We realised we needed another approach. Our support workers are in very regular contact with the carers they support and build very strong trusted relationships with the families. They are therefore really well placed to identify families facing substantial challenges and in greater need of support, and to ask and encourage them to take advantage of what is on offer. There has been an informal ‘by invitation’ process for selecting attendees so that we have targeted those most in need, while still making places available to other families once those priority places are filled.
We have tried over the years to find the best means to support as many families as possible through the day trips. We found this year that we could get free entry for quite a number of our carers due to their carer status and the age and health conditions of their children. This reduced the overall cost and meant we could offer more families the chance to take part. The use of individual cars instead of a minibus opened up numbers too. It also gave families for whom the minibus would not have been appropriate, because of the needs of their children, an alternative. Though this provided a solution to these problems we became aware that there is still a place for having transport available for families who don’t have a car or who are not confident about driving to the locations of the day trips. This year we will make both the minibus and the use of carers’ own vehicles available.
The monthly GoBananas group has proven a really good opportunity for us to engage with new families. Through word-of-mouth unregistered carers have come along with friends to see what the group is about and have subsequently registered. Dads have come with their families and have then recognised that they too are in caring roles and have registered for support in their own right. Publicity around the day trips and spa days has also brought attention to the group and has been an incentive for families to find out more about North Argyll Carers Centre and the other support we can offer.
For quite a while the majority of our parent carers were mums. When we asked what they wanted as their ‘me-time’ they opted for spa days. With the recent increase in dads registering for support, we have become aware that we need to find something that caters more to their interests. They have enjoyed the family days out, but most are not interested in the spa days. We have taken their feedback during the year on board and for 2023-24 we have introduced ‘dads’ days’ with activities chosen by them that are more geared to what they would enjoy. We asked them for suggestions, and they chose golf days, so that is what we have put in place. We know that men often find it hard to talk about how caring roles affect them, especially where there are difficult emotions around a diagnosis for a child. We hope that the dads’ days will give the men a chance to get to know each other better and they can then become a support for one another. Of course, if there are mums who want to take part they can do, just as the dads are welcome to come along to the spa days.
How North Argyll Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
We asked for funding to be able to double up the number of trips and carer relaxation days. Because our request for additional funding was approved, we were able to offer more carers and their children the chance to have fun experiences together and to take time out from their usual routines to do things they otherwise would not have been able to. We know that this made a real difference to a significant number of carers and their families. It also made a difference to our own team’s morale. It is tough at the moment to support people when things often look so bleak. To have something so genuinely beneficial to offer, which makes people so obviously happy, is a real boost and makes the other aspects of the role feel more sustainable too. This may not be the purpose of the fund but it is important for us. It is lovely to know you have been able to bring some joy to people in such testing times. We can see from the word-of-mouth referrals, that having this funding enhances our reputation within the community. People see that we have something to offer them, when so little else is in place. We are recognised as being able to deliver meaningful emotional and practical support, and the peer activities are a major factor in carers saying they feel supported. They can speak with our team and we can provide a listening ear and advocate for them with HSCP and other statutory bodies, but the opportunity to share experiences with others who have been through the same frustrations and worries as them are crucial. We have parents who say that hearing others voice the same difficult emotions a them has been life-changing and profoundly reassuring. We learn from the people we support on a daily basis. Every interaction brings a greater understanding. By necessity there is a somewhat different and more professional, formal tone in our day-to-day 1:1 support, in comparison with the informality when staff go on the day trips and facilitate the spa days and the GoBananas group. It is great to have those less formal times, where the focus is on fun, relaxation and enjoyment. Our team get a different perspective on family dynamics, and get to know the carers and their children better. We learn a lot from these less formal interactions which can help us in our 1:1 practice. The families get to see us in a different light too and that can be helpful in increasing trust and strengthening the bonds between carer and worker.
Disabled children and young people will have had fun participating in activities and day trips. Existing friendships will be strengthened and new friendships will develop
This outcome was fully achieved. The regular GoBananas group has allowed friendships to develop between the children, and they have enjoyed the chance to meet up to go on the day trips together. There is a strong sense of identity within the group and the whole family is involved, enjoying activities they have chosen. At a GoBananas session last June a parent told us “it is really nice for my son to play with children with similar conditions, and I do not need to worry about him” Family networks have developed, with children becoming good friends and meeting outside the group. We know that children who have become friends through the project now go round to each others houses to play which has the dual benefit that the children are having a great time with their friends and the parents of the visiting child get some free time for themselves.
The GoBananas group provides an activity which is regular and has a fairly high degree of predictability which suits many of the children who participate. Because we have exclusive use of the space which takes up the whole upper floor of the building, there are no ‘passers by’ and no interruptions or intrusions and the environment can be easily controlled. Again for many of the children who come along this is an advantage. There is enough room for the children to play in, with the soft play area and other rooms with toys and games. There is also enough space for someone to get away from the group into a quieter corner of needed. Several families whose children have not felt able to join other groups or be in crowded spaces have advised us that our group has provided their children with what they need to be able to have some social time in a space which feels safe and welcoming and does not overwhelm them. When we were speaking with parents about the monthly group, a parent told us that for them it is great because the children understand each other and interact better at this group than any other group they attend. At another session the member of staff observed that the children were getting on really well and most were playing a game of “ninjas” which is something they have invented together. Another parent told us that it was incredibly difficult getting her daughter to come to the group at first, but now she looks forward to it. She stated that it is great as her daughter has a difficult time making friends but the other children at GoBananas are on the same wavelength. A mum who has been registered with the carers centre for a while told us that due to her daughter’s condition it is difficult to be in busy environments and therefore they had not previously come along to the GoBananas group. She was persuaded by other parents to give the group a try and was amazed to find that first time the family went along, as soon as they arrived their daughter went straight into the soft play to play with the other children. Their daughter played during most of the session allowing mum and dad to have some time to have a coffee and chat with the other parent carers. We have also seen birthday congratulations and celebrations for the children at the group. Child B’s mum was really pleased that all the carers and children wished her son a happy birthday and made a fuss of him. There is a real value to these sessions which not only provide an environment where friendships can grow but also build confidence and a supportive network. “my son was getting ready to go to the group hours before, he really enjoys it and he has made friends and he feels familiar with the other children”
80% of carers who took part will report that they have been able access time out for themselves, they feel less stressed and isolated and their wellbeing is improved through participation in groups, day trips and spa days
This outcome was fully achieved. Carers have been consistent in their feedback that taking part in the group, the day trips and the spa days has had a very significant positive effect on their wellbeing. They advise that they feel better supported, more connected, less isolated and have been able to get help and advice from peers as a result of participating in the activities. The spa days have been a real boost and they say that the time out from caring where they feel permitted to put aside all worries and relinquish all their caring responsibilities has been transformative.
In February 2023 we held the second of our Parent Carer Spa days at a local spa hotel in Oban. We have worked with the hotel for a while and they are very understanding of the challenges of unpaid carers. They pulled out all the stops to make it a relaxing, enjoyable and memorable day. The parent carers were able to set aside all their day-to-day concerns and focus just on themselves. Many had not taken any time out to consider their own physical and mental wellbeing for a very long while. The demands and stresses on parent carers during covid were immense and have not really relented since, due to the cost of living crisis. It was great to see them enjoying a relaxing day away from their caring roles. They were able to enjoy their choice of therapy treatment, the thermal spa, including sauna and hot tub and afterwards were treated to an afternoon tea with a glass of prosecco. Attending the Spa Day were both newly registered carers to the Carers Centre and some carers who have been with the centre for many years. Though it was a time for relaxation, talk did turn to caring roles. The parent carers who were caring for older children spoke about their caring experiences with the parents who have just recently received a diagnosis for their children. Though the carers discussed the serious side of their caring roles, it was in a relaxed and friendly environment with a lot of good humour between them. In their feedback they told us how much they had enjoyed the time out, how they felt they had almost forgotten how to relax, how good it felt to put themselves first for a change, but also how reassuring it was to speak to others in similar circumstances and see how they coped. At the end of the day there were new friendships made among the group which was nice to see, particularly with a number of the carers being new to the organisation. Carer comments about the spa days: “it is nice to have some time to myself for a change” “This gave me and [partner] a chance to spend time together as we don’t usually make it for each other. This has been great for us individually and together.” “I feel like a princess, I’ve been so spoiled” “I feel so relaxed which is rare” “its great to talk to adults for a change” “its great to have a day just for me without my children.” “just wanted to thank you all for a lovely day yesterday. I felt so spoilt. It was so nice! I really appreciate it.”
75% of carers who took part will advise that they feel more confident, resilient, better supported and more able to sustain their caring role as a result of participating
Outcome was fully achieved. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive about the impact that participation has had. Our Parent Carer Support Workers have identified that carers who take part in the groups and activities form stronger bonds with them and are more confident about asking for help and advice. The carers develop a stronger sense of their needs and their entitlement to time out so that they can maintain their capacity to care for their children without becoming overwhelmed. They tell us that having contact with other parent carers gives them the chance to acknowledge the challenges they face and not feel guilty about how that can make them feel. They benefit from others’ experience and can share coping strategies and stories. They can laugh about the bad days without feeling disloyal, and celebrate the good. “it is good to meet up with other parents to talk about our children and the problems we have looking after them” “its good to get information that I didn't know before"
The project has allowed us to make opportunities available to parents and their children which they would not otherwise have had. The chance to meet other parents and to have that collective understanding of what being a parent carer entails has been so important for so many of them. The experiences of parents who have been caring for some time have been very helpful to parents who have recently received a diagnosis for their child. The strength within the group and the shared knowledge has helped parents to face a future for their child which was not what they had expected. These three examples typify the positive effect that the project has had: One parent advised that their child who previously would not attend any group events in unknown places has now started becoming more accepting of trying new things and going to new places due to the parent carers GoBananas group. She stated that attending this group has also given her more confidence in taking her daughter to new places due to the support she had when attending our group, both from staff and from other parents. Her daughter is now benefitting from this as she is able to enjoy these new experiences and her confidence is growing as well. One parent carer stated that she found it very comforting to know that other parents are going through the same difficulties as they were with behaviours their child was displaying such as sensory issues with clothing. She stated that she received information and advice which she had not thought of before and this has helped her and her child. One of the parent carers stated that they found the day trip they went on with the Carers Centre group much easier than when they try to go without the support of other parents and our staff. They stated that previously when they felt people were judging them when their child was displaying behaviours associated with their condition, they felt very lonely. However when they had other parent carers with them, they felt more confident and that they would be able to take their children on other trips. They have subsequently felt able to do so. "its nice to talk with other parents in a similar situation”. “its good to be able to come along to the group, get out of the house to spend time with everyone” “Thank you so much for organising today and inviting [child’s name] and I, [child’s name] had a fantastic day.” “thank you for today [staff name] we had a really lovely day” “cant thank u enough for today really appreciate the work yous do” “this is great for my son, everyone is in a similar situation” “it is so nice to feel relaxed in a friendly atmosphere”
80% of those taking part in the activities we deliver will report that participation has improved their mental, physical and/or emotional wellbeing through peer support, physical activity and time for fun and social contact
The outcome was fully achieved. Carers and their children have enjoyed the activities they took part in. They told us they had fun and enjoyed meeting with other families. The chance to socialise has been good for the emotional wellbeing of children and adults alike. They have become less socially isolated as a result of participating and lasting friendships have blossomed. The chance to run around, expend some energy and engage in play has been great for the children’s physical wellbeing. The spa day sessions where parents have had therapeutic treatments and the time to unwind, have resulted in both physical and mental benefits for them. The sense of community within the group, which is not at all ‘cliquey’, and welcomes new members with open arms, has had a significant impact on new carers who have been able to draw such support and reassurance from the group at times when they felt very uncertain and vulnerable.
There are so many conflicting demands on parent carers and so little space for them to think about their own health and wellbeing. They frequently neglect their own physical, mental and emotional health because they prioritise the needs of the child they care for and the wider household, keeping everything together. The project allowed us to redress the balance a little for them and permitted them to put themselves first for a while. One parent carer stated that she had never had the opportunity to attend a spa and she lacked the confidence to do this. She stated that the parent carer spa day arranged by us was the perfect opportunity to try this and enable her to access respite by doing this as she was able to go with people she knew and in an environment in which she feels safe. She stated that she felt that she was supported and given the confidence to do something for herself to recharge her batteries. A couple told us that the demands of their parent carer roles have slowly and steadily expanded to absorb all the time they have and, without really noticing, they have had fewer and fewer opportunities for actively spending time together, caring for each other. The relationship remains strong, but they felt they had lost sight of the side of it which was about being a couple, rather than parents. They attended a spa day together and said they were so happy to rediscover enjoying time together without their parent carer responsibilities encroaching. One parent stated that they are so grateful for the monthly group and the day trips. For them it is so good for their child to get the opportunity to burn off excess energy in a safe environment where the parent can relax knowing their child is enjoying himself. This protected time gives them a chance to relax whilst speaking to other parents who are in a caring role which is similar to their own. The parent stated that they usually feel guilt as it appears to others that their child is being bad but they are in actuality displaying behaviours relating to their conditions. This parent was given reassurance by the other parents who were attending the group and who shared similar experiences.