Play-Sense Pre-School Play Group
A story by Glasgow East End Community Carers
We delivered Play-Sense, a weekly play group for parents and their pre-school children with disabilities/additional support needs.
Parents get a break from their caring role in the company of others who share their experiences while their children grow & develop through sensory play in a safe, inclusive space.
What Play-Sense Pre-School Play Group did
Play-Sense play group supports families across a wide area of the East End of Glasgow. The group celebrates inclusion and diversity and is represented by 12+ ethnic backgrounds. Our weekly Play-Sense sessions include access to our play room and sensory room. In addition, we ran two full-scale weekend family events and further outreach visits to a local sensory/soft play area who delivered dedicated sessions for Play-Sense families. This allowed families to familiarise themselves with other services in the community.
Our service provides an ideal route for families to be referred into a support system early in their child’s life, allowing them to get a break from their full caring role and to access a range of additional support they would otherwise not be aware of. At the point of engaging, parents are often particularly vulnerable. They may be awaiting a formal diagnosis for their child or have just received one. Most are referred via the Child Development Centre, local family-focused third sector organisations and via word-of-mouth.
Many feel isolated, distressed, overwhelmed and angry and report that they welcome the opportunity to express their emotions and concerns to staff and peers who understand what they are going through. We developed close working relationships with referral agencies and provided support materials and a quick referral process to assist them promote the service. We also tapped into their support and expertise to develop promotional materials and to ensure we provided a service that fulfils a genuine need.
We involved parents in the development of the service; they chose the name Play-Sense, helped design our logo and advised on the activities and environment that works for them and their children. It has been gratifying to witness the impact the service is having on child development and improved quality of life for many individuals and families.
Also important in the success of Play-Sense has been our investment in permanent staff. This has allowed parents and children alike to develop trusting relationships and has allowed us to upskill our staff by offering a training programme including autism and paediatric first aid.
What Glasgow East End Community Carers has learned
Project Planning & Budgeting, one of our ongoing planning challenges has been throughput of children and consistency of attendance. For example, most children will inevitably be offered nursery and school places. However, as Play-Sense has become more established, many parents choose to protect their Friday mornings at Play-Sense by requesting afternoon nursery sessions or taking their children out of Friday morning nursery places every few weeks in order to maintain their contact with Play-Sense and the Carers Hub. Importantly for the families who move on, the connection has been made and they and their children generally continue to benefit from our ongoing Hub supports.
Unpredictability of attendance is another challenge we face. We never know how many children to expect each week. We understand that carers lives are unpredictable by nature children often don’t sleep well or parents may be dealing with toileting accidents or meltdowns and be unable to leave the house. Parents know that we understand their lives and won’t judge them for these things. This only serves to increase the sense of trust they have in our service. I keep in touch with parents by text be-tween sessions to remind them of what is on and to reduce any barriers to attendance by offering emotional and/or practical support.
Finally, it has been time consuming to engage staff who have the right blend of experience and long-term commitment to the project and who share our ethos. We now have two regular play group coordinators who between them have the ideal range of skills and motivation. They have brought fresh ideas and have established good relationships with children and parents alike.
We had not originally budgeted for transport and, as outlined in previous section, this proved to be a barrier to attendance for many families. In addition, we underestimated the growth of Play-Sense and the demand for specific training for parents of this age group.
In addition, parents feel that it is important to their child to maintain continuity. Children show signs of development over their time at Play-Sense and a break is likely to detrimentally affect their progress. This also helps the Child Development Centre’s referral process and likelihood of engagement by families. It would ensure that when a family is referred, they will have access to the group immediately, rather than perhaps having to wait until after summer holiday period.
We piloted this over summer 2018 in response to parents’ requests and covered the costs of this from reserves. Attendance was high and parents would like this to become the established pattern. 100% of parents reported that it was extremely important to them.
Targeting Families Most in Need of Support.
Glasgow East End Community Carers covers a broad geographic area of East Glasgow (approx. 21sq. miles) It is an area of multiple deprivation where the population is disproportionately affected by poverty, ill-health and lack of opportunity. Managing a child with a disability is therefore more challenging than for those in a more affluent area. Many of our families are single parent households with 2+ children. We have learned from evaluation and engagement how under-confident, undervalued and intimidated by services, these parents are.
Many parents need reassurance that we won’t judge them before they will engage with us. Many feel that they need to ‘warn’ us about their child’s sensory issues and behaviours as they are used to feeling awkward when they are in the company of parents with neuro-typical children. We have learned that parents who are slow to engage with Play-Sense, will often accept an invitation to weekend family events and, from there, once they have met our staff and parents, will go on to visit Play-Sense. Parents who go on to attend often use the word ‘safe’ (unprompted) when describing our service in evaluation.
In order to engage with parents most in need, we have secured funding to produce a range of leaflets that speak to carers in their language and we have involved our parents in the design of these. We will ensure our message reaches the most vulnerable and isolated parents by networking and community engagement. Whilst we are placed centrally within the East End catchment area, transport can be a real barrier for parents who have their own health issues, are juggling 2+ children, children with multiple disabilities/complex needs and those who are still unfamiliar with Glasgow or live at the far end of our catchment.
Many families who really benefit from Play-Sense, would be unable to attend without the provision of transport. One of our BME parents says ‘My daughter is unpredictable on public transport and refuses to walk to the bus stop. Transport allows me to attend without getting overly stressed.’ In order to reach families most in need we now offer transport where necessary.
Reaching Out & Engaging with New Families, many of our BME families are refugees or asylum seekers. Often, they have not yet mastered English. We are making good relationships with these families and it is not unusual to find that we have an attendance of 12 children, all BME! We have now secured funding to produce a range of literature, including Play-Sense leaflet, in Urdu, Mandarin and Polish. We hope this will help explain rationale behind our services more fully, extend a welcoming intention and demonstrate our commitment to inclusion and diversity.
Partnership working, we maintain productive and effective relationships with referring practitioners and schools to encourage engagement with harder-to-reach families. Our approach has included joint home-visits with partner organisations, sharing important information relating to family circumstances (where consent has been given) and two-way sharing of information and resources that helps promote and develop the service.
Facilitating links, Play-Sense attracts more BME parents than any other service we offer. This year Play-Sense has welcomed families from 12+ ethnic back-grounds. We have learned to use our resources creatively to facilitate links between families; for example, we have made introductions between Amharic-speaking families, El Salvadorian and Colombian families and between Mandarin-speaking families. In some cases, BME parents have translated for our new families. In this way, isolated parents make connections and friendships beyond Play-Sense.
How Glasgow East End Community Carers has benefitted from the funding
Better Breaks funding has allowed us to improve health and wellbeing out-comes in an area of disadvantage. We view Play-Sense is one of the best possible type of resources for parents and children with disabilities. Parents are referred into our service much earlier in their child’s life and can start accessing our full range of carer supports while doing something positive towards their child’s development. Through Better Breaks, parents and disabled children are better connected and less isolated within their community. Many of our professional partnerships have been strengthened by Better Breaks funding we have worked with local statutory and voluntary partners Services including Child Development Centre, Community Link Practitioners and Barnardos to ensure we complement rather than duplicate the services provided in the East End. This approach increases our presence and reputation in the local community as we are the only Glasgow carers’ service to offer a play group for children with disabilities. A wide range of statutory and third sector partners see us as a ‘go to’ service for parents and, in addition, we have benefited from a large number of word-of-mouth referrals. It is also anticipated that the success of the project will ensure the long-term presence of the Carers Hub at the heart of the Community, furthering the choice and range of appropriate ongoing support to parents and families. Better Breaks funding has allowed Carers Hub staff to develop stronger relation-ships with families earlier and increase our understanding of disabilities and conditions. The funding has also allowed us to up-skill staff by increasing training and to broaden the expertise held in the Hub team by recruiting two permanent staff who bring a wealth of additional skills including child psychology, play therapy and creche experience.
We will have met our target of 15 parents and their disabled children living in the East End of Glasgow attending our weekly play group and 24 parents, their disabled children and other siblings attending two family events.
We significantly exceeded the above targets. We supported 35 parents/family carers, 28 children with disabilities and 20 young siblings. Children who attended presented with a range of complex disabilities including Downs Syndrome, global development delay, sensory impairments, cerebral palsy, ASD and a range of genetic conditions. Many children are non-verbal and have significant sensory impairment and communication issues. We collated a range of toys & equipment and developed a programme of activities to best support all children who attend. Our sensory room is dedicated to Play-Sense every Friday morning and parents report this to be an invaluable asset, both in stimulating their child’s senses and to provide a safe space to avert or calm meltdowns. Our activities include sensory/messy art, music and storytelling, technology & augmented reality and ‘zoned’ play areas, for example for shopping, cooking and washing up role-play, dressing up, book corner and building blocks.
Paula was introduced to Play-Sense by a Specialist Nurse following her child Toby’s autism diagnosis. She has a second child currently going through assessment. She reports feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the diagnosis and the prospect of supporting two children with ASD. She attended mainstream play groups before finding Play-Sense and reports that neither she nor her children engaged with other families. She became weary and defeated by repeatedly explaining her children’s non-typical behaviour and felt inadequate that her children were not seen to achieve the same milestones as others. Although she felt unfairly judged, she began to allow others to believe her children were just badly behaved rather than try to explain a condition she knew too little about herself. She felt misunderstood and out of her depth. Having attended Play-Sense over several months, Paula sees her children thriving in the right environment. Paula said ‘Toby is now more expressive and communicative. I see a side of Toby I’ve never seen before. He dreams about Play-Sense and talks about the people he has met.’ On one occasion when the weather was poor, Paula said that they may not attend that day. Toby’s reply to her was ‘No, we need to go you can do it Mummy!’ Paula is now benefiting from the support of other parents who share her experiences. Her confidence and self-esteem have increased and she has now attended our 4-day Autism Awareness Course, Play-Sense family outings and has benefited from our Autism Helpline and assistance to develop Social Stories for Toby.
24 Parents will experience improved physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
35 parents and family carers attended Play-Sense sessions and 100% of those parents reported an improvement in their family’s quality of life and wellbeing. Parents who are referred to Play-Sense are often struggling with issues including social disadvantage, isolation and low confidence (often exacerbated by their child’s diagnosis). Parents appreciate that our service is developed through listening to their issues and developing our service accordingly. Parents were able to improve their wellbeing by taking time out to receive massage and beauty therapy provided by Glasgow Kelvin College. Our monthly Social Kitchen was designed to coincide with the end of Play-Sense sessions, allowing parents to socialise with their peers over a healthy lunch. In addition, parents had access to a range of health and wellbeing activities including 1:1 counselling and income maximisation. ‘Having access to courses and meeting other parents is a godsend. Without Play-Sense I would be lost.'
Viv was the mother of three healthy children when she discovered she was pregnant with twins. Early in her pregnancy she was told that one twin had a brain malformation and would not survive. In order to ensure the safe delivery of her healthy baby, she needed to continue with the pregnancy. She suffered severe emotional distress coming to terms with the forthcoming loss of one of her babies. Against all odds, both babies survived and Viv has had to deal with the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with such a life changing turnaround. Viv felt isolated and distressed following her pregnancy as she tried to come to terms with what she’d been through. She was affected by the lack of sensitivity shown to her at mainstream parent and toddler group. She was questioned publicly about her baby’s appearance and as a result she didn’t go back to the group. Her local Child Development Centre referred her to Glasgow East End Community Carers where she now attends Play-Sense. Viv says attending Play-Sense is the high-light of her week and the only place she feels comfortable. She has been able to access a range of additional supports through her contact with us. Viv said ‘I feel we fit in here in way we haven’t before. Staff and parents understand our issues so we feel properly supported now. I’ve also found out about other services the Carers Hub offers and have been attending counselling here. The Carers Hub supports me by providing on-site care for the twins in the sensory room so I can spend this valuable time on myself.’
A total of 24 parents living in the East End with have the opportunity to access the play group and family events and, as a consequence, will have enjoyed various activities, information sessions and workshops in fun, safe and relaxed environment.
35 parents/carers benefited from our on-site health and wellbeing activities and our family outings. Demand for pampering, workshops and family outings was higher than expected. Sessions were carefully coordinated to address any barriers to attendance and to alleviate the usual stresses that prohibit families getting out together, including financial hardship. Glasgow Science Centre provided autism-trained staff and ear defenders. Parents valued the chance to create family memories without having to explain their child's behaviour or condition. All families involved would not otherwise be able to fund such an outing and this was generally their first such experience. Families who had not engaged following initial referral were invited to special events. Those who accepted were able to gain confidence in us as an organisation and went on to attend Play-Sense sessions weekly. In this way we learned to view these activities as a means to overcome some barriers to engagement.
Anaya is isolated as she struggles to cope with her two daughters who have autism. She suffers from stress and anxiety as she feels she is coping alone. Knowing how isolated Anaya was, we kept in regular touch with her. She says ‘Thank you for your reminder messages, I never get out of the house so forget what day it is sometimes. You honestly are helping me so much you have no idea by offering the taxi reminder texts. And for you being available on text. Thank you you are doing an awesome job!’ No other adult within her extended family recognised that her children have additional needs despite their diagnoses. The diagnoses were not discussed and she was unable to talk about her feelings around this for fear of family unrest. She naturally wants the best support for her daughters but faces significant challenges. Anaya appreciates the freedom to express her anxieties, fears and emotions at Play-Sense, both to staff and other parents. Slowly she is making progress. Her husband has attended two sessions and has been able to witness how the right type of activities and environment, including the sensory room, have a positive effect on Riya and Kyra. He is now willing to prepare a space at home that is more suitable to their needs and Anaya is delighted with this progress. The family attended one of our Science Centre weekend outings, something she would not have done before due to her anxiety. Anaya says ‘Thank you so much for today. It was fantastic and the kids really enjoyed themselves. Kyra (visual problems) loved how bright it was. It was so stress-free, even down to not having to pay which works out so expensive for all of us. So, thank you again!’
15 carers plus family members will have increased confidence, increased social networks for both the carer and their child. They will have established relationships with Carers Hub staff and feel better supported, informed and knowledgeable about their child's condition and needs.
35 parents and family carers have agreed that they feel more confident, better connected and less isolated since attending The Carers Hub and Play-Sense. The support we offer carers early in their journey positively impacted positively impacted on parents and children's quality of life. We hope that good quality services not only improve lives now but have substantial benefits in the lifeline of the family. The knowledge and skills embedded via peer support, training and workshops has increased parents capacity to cope on a day-to-day basis. Relationships formed during these activities often extend beyond Play-Sense itself. and knowledge gained provides tools for parents to help them mitigate against future crisis. We have successfully facilitated friendships between carers of the same ethnic backgrounds and helped all parents access the right training and workshops for their needs. Play-Sense staff and more than 50% parents have attended several information and training sessions
Ru Shi and her husband, Bolin, from China and Malaysia respectively, have settled in Glasgow recently. The couple have two pre-school children, the elder being diagnosed with autism. Ru Shi was anxious about her child’s diagnosis and didn’t feel she had the tools to really understand autism behaviours. She felt isolated from other parents in her situation and her English language is limited. By making use of our sensory room, Ru Shi and Bolin were able to slowly extend the time that their daughter would remain in the centre without becoming distressed (from 5 minutes to one hour over 3 months). We were able to facilitate an increase in Ru Shi’s circle of community support by introducing her to other Mandarin-speaking mums with similar life experiences who attend our Drop-in Parents Breakfast Café. She now feels more connected and settled. Through our partnership connections, we also secured autism training for Ru Shi and Bolin in Mandarin. Ru Shi said ‘My children love messy play and are becoming more social around others. I also have a better understanding of my child’s behaviour being able to get autism training in Mandarin was amazing. A massive thank you to Carers Hub staff for everything you have done to support our family!’