A story by PLUS
Opportunity PLUS has delivered 57 x 2 hour play sessions for children aged 3-5 years with disabilities and 57 x 2 hour sessions of free time for parents/carers.
Children participate in baking, arts and crafts, free play and sensory play in small groups. Siblings aged 3-5 years are able to attend sessions as well which, in some instances, ensures a more complete break for the parents/carers.
Some parents/carers opt to spend time in our family room whilst others choose to do some grocery shopping or to spend time with their other children. In addition to this, transport was provided to some families to remove access as the barrier to inclusion in the project.
This opportunity not only gives parents/carers time away from their caring role and the opportunity to develop a peer network, it also gives children the chance to socialise with other children with appropriate levels of staff support to enrich the experience.
Tip 1:Consult with parents/carers and children about what they want from the project and ensure they continue to be involved - not only in the planning stages. Do not underestimate the differing needs of parents/carers and children, and how these needs can change over a short period of time.
Tip 2:Be as flexible as possible! The final product will rarely match the initial plan, and ongoing tweaks will help to ensure the project continues to remain relevant to those involved.
Tip 3:Ensure that your targets are realistic and build on success.
L is 4-years old and has a developmental delay. During the early stages of the project he would become very upset when his mum left which meant that she very rarely experienced the full benefit of the short break. L has built up a strong bond with the staff at the play sessions and has requested to...”go to the playgroup, the one that you don’t stay at.” L’s mum can now use the 2-hour break to attend appointments and spend time with L’s older siblings.
M is a 3-year old girl with Down's Syndrome. When M first started attending the play sessions she would become very distressed to the extent that her parents were thinking about withdrawing her from the project. M now attends the play sessions happily. “There are a wide variety of toys on offer and different activities each week including messy play which M particularly enjoys.”
Y is a 4-year old boy with Autism who has attended 34/36 sessions. His mum initially used the 2 hours as an opportunity to spend time with other parents/carers but now chooses to use her time more flexibly. “I like the fact that I can go out for two hours, cos that is when I do my weekly shop now.
Two of the parents who have been benefiting from the project initiated the start up of 'Play and Chat @ PLUS' - a weekly parent and toddler group. They believed that this project would fill a gap in support across the Forth Valley, and that it would compliment the current provision being offered through Opportunity PLUS.
Consequently, these parents have increased their opportunity to access peer support on a more regular basis, resulting in a better support network and greater opportunity to develop relationships with their peers.
R's carers live in a rural area of Stirling, however travel a 40 mile round trip on a weekly basis in order to access the service. His carer has acknowledged that 'he has loved the sessions... and it has been great to get a couple of hours off".
R is a 4 year old with a learning disability in addition to communication difficulties. His sister has been attending events with him. Mum uses her time flexibly when the children are being supported by PLUS - either by shopping, or peacefully reading her book. She is able to maximise her short break by having the full time to herself, rather than still having to look after R's sibling.
I think it really is helping them focus on the tasks and they’re basically getting a two hour slot of individual attention that they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise". Parents/carers are given the option of spending time in our family room with fellow parents/carers, leaving the session to perhaps do some shopping or spend time with their other children.
Regarding the home visit, one parent highlighted the importance of them as follows "I thought that it was really good because, I remember you were asking a lot of questions about what he likes, about his behaviour, and how he would be in that sort of situation. It was probably even more than his own nursery had asked at that point because when your child enrolls into nursery, or pre-school, they don’t actually ask what things make him happy, what things upset him, what sort of situations does he work best in, and I think all that is good information to have on a child; particularly one with additional needs I think, and it was good that you did that, and it made me feel better about sending him somewhere with you having that knowledge of what it is he is into and things..".
Parents/carers are given feedback about each session and they are invited to share information and feedback themselves. Sessional staff members provide written feedback at the end of every session, which includes making suggestions for improvements. Parents/carers are actively encouraged to contact the project co-ordinator with any questions, feedback or concerns. As parents meet with staff face to face on a weekly basis, this has promoted the development of relationships and has increased the opportunities to gain feedback and monitor progress.
Sessions run throughout the holiday period with the exception of Christmas. This summer holiday is a time when most families are lacking in support, which increases the positive impact the project has on family life.
The support needs of children are regularly reassessed in consultation with parents/carers, and reduced or increased if required. For some, this offers them a greater opportunity of using their skills independently, and for others, this ensures they are more effectively supported to engage with activities, games and their peers. At times, the co-ordinator has also liaised with other professional to ensure continuity in support - for example in relation to behaviour plans.
It has been beneficial to have siblings attend the project as this offers a more fulfilling experience for both the children and parent/carer. Another unanticipated benefit is that two parents/carers of children attending the project have initiated a parent and toddler group for children aged 0 -5, having identified that there was a gap in support in the area.
The group meets weekly at the PLUS office and use the equipment and toys on offer. These sessions compliment those on offer through Opportunity PLUS, but have added benefit due to supporting a wider age range.
This has also been followed up with meetings, which included attending a team meeting with Health visitors covering the area. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are regularly used to promote the project as well. This has been supported by one of the parents becoming an administrator on the Facebook page.
PLUS staff have also been able to share information about the project at a variety of events they have attended to promote PLUS in the area. This has resulted in referrals coming from a variety of sources. We are aware that there is further work to be done in this area.
• Feedback from sessional staff and project co-ordinator
• Focus groups and weekly conversations with parents/carers