Oban, Lorn and Isles Parent Carers Time for Me
A story by North Argyll Carers Centre
A monthly peer support group for parent carers and their children held in a local soft play facility,creating friendships and support alongside a menu of flexible respite activities for parents and children including group outings and time out for parent carers.
What Oban, Lorn and Isles Parent Carers Time for Me did
Parents, children with disabilities and the wider family participated in our flexible offerings to families. We wanted to create these opportunities to ensure These included: A monthly support group (1st Tuesday of the month) held in a local soft play facility, booking the area exclusively for a two-hour session enabling a relaxed environment for both parents and children to attend. This group enabled parents the opportunity to meet for peer support, to chat and share experiences.
Relaxation therapies in response to parents requests This year we have offered carers vouchers to be used flexibly with a therapist of their choice ensuring that as many carers access relaxation support as possible. Parent have chosen to have relaxation massage, leisure therapies and more at a time, place and pace that suits them.
Group and family time opportunities , and we offered families and the group opportunities to come together such as a spa day for parent carers to come together and relax, a group outing to Blair Drummond Safari Park, a real favourite for all the family. These activities took place throughout the year, during school holidays and weekends when families were available.
Rural and remote parent carers from across the Oban, Lorn and Isles area benefited with families from across the area accessed support. Isolation is a key factor identified by parent carers and we have worked to bring parent carers and their children together. By offering a varied programme with super-flexible options of support we have maximised opportunities and in developing the programme have listened to parent carers and weaved their needs, and that of their children, into the development of activities ensuring there has been mutual benefit in joint and focused activities.
We reached out to local Leisure Centre Atlantis Leisure to come together with the Parent Group to listen more to the needs of children with disabilities and investigate ways to support further such as silent swim times, taster sessions for children with parents. It has been excellent to share learning and feel that the parents and children are being listened to and provision developing locally.
What North Argyll Carers Centre has learned
The project has once highlighted again that flexibility is key to ensuring parent carers and their children are supported. One size does not fit all and we have found that flexible and creative opportunities, placing families needs at the heart of the project have the greatest reach.
We have reached out to local social enterprise Atlantis Leisure to support family carers more. This came as a result of discussion in the parent carers group and the need for further development of activities for young carers. Subsequently there was more connection with Argyll and Bute Council where multi agency approaches continue to work together to support development of much needed activities for children with disabilities.
Listening to carers continues to be key with carers driving the programme of activities, and we believe the positive outcomes for carers have come from a place of carers voices in designing projects in partnership with us.
Enabling carers their voice in the discussions with community venues and organisations is incredibly powerful and it is our job rather than speak on behalf of carers, rather to enable and support carers to speak for themselves and amplify the voice of carers in service design.
How North Argyll Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
This has enabled us to deliver a really valuable project catering for parent carers, ensuring vital time out, and actively enabled us to encourage carers to think about their health and wellbeing as well as building precious memories with their families. We were able to support the recent work by Jacquet Consultancy with families in the area of Argyll and Bute. This was a positive experience in enabling us to have further opportunities to listen to needs and support much needed work in the area on developing opportunities and awareness for families. This has enabled us to further connect with statutory and community organisations. We have an existing connection with The Rotary Club of Oban in connection with our work with young carers but positive this year to have more discussions and sharing time on parent carer matters. It is important for us to keep raising the profile of parent carers and this project and the work involved has given us a platform to do this.
Families will have the opportunity to have time together to share fun times, increasing both adult and children's networks.
This was achieved for all the families who attended the groups, day trips and the events at the local leisure centre designed specifically for them because the children were able to have fun together (including the siblings of the children with disabilities) and develop their social skills whilst parents connected with each other in a relaxed accepting environment. "I normally dread taking the kids to busy places but this is just so relaxing being in a group and watching them play with their friends. Usually my stress levels would be through be roof by lunch time but I feel totally calm and I think that makes them more calm too."
We took families to Blair Drummond Safari Park in August 2019 for the day and everyone had a great time together. Some of them had never been before and one parent admitted that the thought of taking both her children to somewhere with lots of people terrified her because if her additional support needs son had a meltdown in public, everyone would think she was a bad parent and she worried about losing one of them because she didn’t have enough eyes and hands. All the parents knew each other and some of the children knew each other too but throughout the day everyone got much closer as they shared new experiences and laughs together. In the afternoon, the children played in the huge play park together whilst the parents had coffee and cake and watched them. They were able to relax because there were other adults sharing the responsibility of supervising them. We ended the day with the sea lion show which the children thoroughly enjoyed and the parents again could relax because they were not worried about one of their children not coping and having to take the whole family out. There was of course the occasional tantrum, lie down protest, complaint about having to walk etc but the parents took all this in their stride because they had the peer support and the confidence that comes from being part of group. Both the children and the adults tried new things that they would not have done without the encouragement from each other – such as going on the zip line or feeding the llama! We stopped at a café on the way home and had dinner together. It was lovely weather and we were able to sit outside so the parents were not worried about their children making too much noise or mess and they could just relax and enjoy the experience. One parent said their child would never have behaved so well all day if they were not with the other child and the other parent said the same so it seems they are a good influence on each other.
Carers will feel increased wellbeing and a decrease in stress levels
This was achieved to a significant extent because parent carers benefited from individual massage therapy in addition to spa breaks and respite from their caring role. The combination of these interventions and the peer support helped parents to feel less stressed and reduced their sense of isolation. "I never in a million years imagined that I would be brave enough to go away overnight with a big group of people that I didn’t know that well but coming to the groups has really helped my confidence. " "I have never had a massage before and I had to try really hard to stop myself from feeling guilty so I could enjoy it. You just get so used to thinking about what they need that you forget you can have nice things too." "That was the best sleep I have had for years. I think partly because I wasn’t wakened up five times but also because I just felt so much more relaxed in myself."
We took a group of parent carers on an overnight Spa Break in Glasgow in December 2019 which they looked forward to for many months. Initially some of the parents said they would love to attend but just didn’t think it would be possible to be away from their children overnight. However, with encouragement from the other parents and huge amount of preparation with other family members, they decided to come along. Some parents felt anxious or guilty about leaving their children but acknowledged the need for a break and reminded each other that they deserved it. Some of them already knew each other but others were quite new to the group so it was good to have the train journey for people to get to know each other and talk about their situations. Many of them were quite nervous about being away from their families overnight (for some it was the first time ever) but they were also very excited about being away with adults and getting pampered so by the time we got to the hotel, they were all talking about how relaxed they felt and how glad they were that they decided to come. They enjoyed the pool, steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi before dinner and then spent the rest of the evening in the bar chatting and laughing. Everyone said they had a great night’s sleep (for many this was a rarity) and in the morning they all had their chosen treatment of massage or facial etc before brunch. Those who had to get back in the afternoon left on the lunchtime train and the others stayed and did some Christmas shopping together before getting the evening train home. The feedback from all of them was extremely positive and they all said it is something they would like to do at least once a year “because we’re worth it” which had become their new motto.
The combination of the group and individual support will reduce the feeling of isolation common to families of children with disabilities, increase inclusion and natural peer support will continue to develop
This was achieved to a great extent because the parent carers were able to access peer support at the monthly group and the closed group on Facebook at times convenient to them. They also took advantage of the individual support from their Support Worker. "The support I have had has been amazing. I don’t think I could have got through the past few months without it to be honest. I thought I was failing as a parent and now I know what I can actually do and also that I don’t have to try to control everything, fix everything. I had put so much pressure on myself and you have just taken it off. I can see the positives so much more clearly and I actually enjoy the challenges – not all of them mind!" "I have never had a massage before and I had to try really hard to stop myself from feeling guilty so I could enjoy it. You just get so used to thinking about what they need that you forget you can have nice things too."
One of our families moved from England to a remote part of Argyll with their three children. They didn’t have any social support at all but they met another carer at church who told them about the centre. We registered both parents and their teenage daughter and did support plans for them whilst they settled into their new house and the local community. Their key worker took the parents along to the monthly group and they were made to feel so welcome that the mum was overcome with gratitude and was crying (in a good way) within 10 minutes. She told her story of assessment, diagnosis, school disaster, social judgements and journey to acceptance as the other parents acknowledged her emotions and comforted her. This was during term time so children were at school and it was only the little ones playing in soft play, which made it easy for parents to talk without constant interruptions and lots of noise. After several home visits getting to know the family, their key worker began a positive parenting program with them enabling them to help their autistic son with his challenges and create a more secure and relaxed atmosphere for the whole family. She also attended a Child Plan Meeting for their son to ensure there was consistency for him and help his teacher who was struggling with his behaviour. After a few weeks, he was no longer being sent home before lunch and was enjoying school and making friends. Mum got a lot of support from the closed Facebook group and the other parents were able to help her understand the child planning process and the GIRFEC policy so that she could make sure her son’s needs were being met. Her husband had been struggling with all the change and was missing his family and friends so he accessed some person centred counselling and after a couple of sessions, he was feeling much more positive. Both parents also benefited from massage therapy and came to the centre when in town to have a coffee and a chat. In April 2019, they joined us on our family day trip to the Wildlife Park near Aviemore and all three children had a fantastic day. Their teenage daughter was quite anxious and the other children were all much younger so we gave her the fancy camera and made her the official photographer which she loved. It was a lovely day and all the parents enjoyed a relaxing lunch together whilst the children watched the macaques playing. They have now made friends with the other parents and look forward to the monthly groups. "It sounds silly but I like that it’s okay to cry here and nobody tries to change the subject or cheer you up. I don’t do it often but those weeks when it just all builds up, it’s good to let it out with people who understand."