PLUS Falkirk Family Network
A story by PLUS (Forth Valley) Ltd
We ran a pilot programme which delivered these activities in Falkirk, 57 Play and Chat Sessions, 49 Play and Youth Activities, 23 Opportunity PLUS Sessions, 11 1:1 Sessions and 3 Family Events.
What PLUS Falkirk Family Network did
We started by hosting a family day to gain interest and share information about our project. We worked alongside families to promote our organisation and the local developments. The interest was high, and as a result we redesigned the project in order to reach a higher number of people. Children engaging in the project were all Falkirk based and aged between 0-18. Carers were able to engage directly in the weekly Parent group, but they also benefited from their children accessing their own group activities as they then had regular short breaks. These breaks were often used to spend quality time with siblings.
Our events were initially held at the Forth Valley Sensory Centre before relocating to the Howgate Centre where we had the ability to develop an area for personal care using a changing table and hoist. We created a sensory room, had a kitchen space and quiet rooms. There was space for sand and water play, arts and crafts, dress up, books, building blocks etc. Events were structured around some free play, snack/lunch time, arts and crafts and group work where appropriate.
We recruited some staff from the local area, but also complimented the new team with experienced staff from our Stirling services. This helped to develop the confidence of the new staff members, who undertook some training sessions at Stirling events to increase their awareness and understanding of the structure of our events and the expectations we had. We networked with other organisations in the area, although did not have a chance to fully develop these relationships within the pilot year.
Our project addressed the following priorities; supported children with Multiple Support Needs, developed opportunities for them to become more independent, worked with pre school children and harder to reach families and developed new opportunities in Falkirk.
In terms of successes, it was great to be able to work so closely with so many enthusiastic, encouraging and supportive families and children. The opportunity to develop these relationships in premises we could call our own added to the sense of belonging that the project was able to foster.
What PLUS (Forth Valley) Ltd has learned
We have learned that whilst it is great to have the opportunity to pilot a project, in practice it is very difficult to get a project up and running successfully in a year. In addition, families feel very disappointed at the year end as the project is beginning to be part of their normal routines, their children look forward to attending, have become settled in activities and have developed friendships. Trying to identify ongoing funding following the pilot year has been very difficult and as a result there is uncertainty regarding the future of the project.
It has also been clear how important it is for families to have a base to meet their peers. Somewhere safe, welcoming, accessible and non judgemental. Parents were able to benefit from our services and as they have got to know the premises and the staff when they attend, they are confident that their child will be well supported and engaged. As staff, being able to watch relationships develop between children and between families is great.
Knowing that without out provision some relationships would never have formed. The increased resilience and strengthened network for families can only be positive and will continue to have longer term benefits and gains for the children we have supported.
We are continuing to seek alternative funding through trust and grant applications. In addition we are raising our profile within the community with support from the families who have benefited from our services.
How PLUS (Forth Valley) Ltd has benefitted from the funding
The profile of our organisation in Falkirk has increased and the demand for our style of service has been confirmed. Whilst we have undertaken some low level meetings with other local organisations, we would be excited to explore the potential of partnerships developing to enhance to opportunities for families in the area. We have developed some really positive relationships with families in the area and can see the need for increased opportunities. We are keen to continue to work alongside families in the Falkirk area, strengthening their role in future developments if we are able to identify funding to offer some sustainability and continuity of service.
30 children and young people with disabilities living in the Falkirk area will have access to increased time with peers, engaging in activities which they have helped to direct.
We delivered 49 Play and Youth Activities and 23 Preschool Sessions. We redesigned our project following a higher level of interest from younger children. We developed 3 groups, 2 for younger children, 1 for older children. A total of 88 children accessed the project at least once, with 46 children regularly attending. Parents told us; 'R wasn't keen to come along but now really enjoys it and I have been told he has developed a friendship with another boy... to me this is invaluable.' 'J is a lot more social... D feels included and has made friends. F has more confidence and will talk more and M feels relaxed and accepted. He takes part in activities more.' 'M has loved the themes, she always seemed to have fun.' 'Always looks forward to his day at the club. Caters for his disability.' 'C loves his time at PLUS... When he started he was a very withdrawn little boy... PLUS has helped turn my wee boy into the happy smiling wee boy that he should be.'
Several families have reported that their child has had more opportunities through their involvement in the project. One particular family has access to no additional support so were delighted when they were introduced to PLUS. Their child was not often away from immediate family apart from when he was at school. Mum told us; 'A highlight has been A mixing with other children and adults that he doesn't know. It has made a huge difference to A being able to cope in different situations outside the house. He just loves coming. A has made new friends, has become more confident and being able to be in new surroundings with new people that he now trusts and I trust is invaluable.' Families who have a child with additional support needs can find it difficult to trust that others will be able to care for their child as they do. When parents see their children are relaxed and comfortable in the environment, they too become more relaxed and able to fully benefit from their short break without worrying.
27 parents and carers will report increased time to themselves, through increased access to regular short breaks.
We delivered 57 Play and Chat Sessions for parents/carers with 54 families accessing the provision at least once. 29 families participate on a regular basis. This equates to approximately 50 carers, inclusive of siblings. Parents accessed short breaks in a variety of ways through the project. Some attended Play and Chat on a regular basis which gave them the opportunity to meet with other parents and carers, to share experiences and to offer each other peer support. Other breaks came when children attended our play activities, which gave the parents a short break to use as they pleased. Strong relationships have developed between parents, 'The sense of community amongst parents it's created. PLUS Falkirk has brought families together that were once strangers and are now friends.' 'I have been able to relax in a safe environment.' 'PLUS has been invaluable to our family and play and chat is a lifeline as a parent.' ‘M always has fun and it has allowed me to go to work too!'
A preschool child struggled with the transition from the Sensory Centre to the Howgate and the size of the space, the lighting, the acoustics, lack of natural light and the size of the space all added complications. In addition to this, the nursery term had come to an end and this meant there was no support in place for 7 weeks of the school summer holiday. The child had been relatively confident in the previous premises, however this soon changed with the child showing destructive behaviours. His anxiety levels were heightened, and with little verbal communication skills this was difficult to explain to anyone. This quickly began to impact on Mum who we could see would benefit from a break during the summer period. As a result, we offered a 1:1 service on a weekly basis, to support the child on his own in the space with the aim being to desensitise him to the space when the premises were less busy. To begin with, a staff member supported him downstairs in a quieter room where we were able to alter the lighting. Toys and games were taken down to him to engage with him and re-establish the relationship. On his own accord, he began to step out of his comfort zone, and before long he was choosing to spend time in the main space. Staff would ensure the same activities were available for him to access when he arrived at the sessions, and over time his behaviour at the Play and Chat sessions began to mellow. His destructive behaviour reduced. He began to enjoy working on complex 50 piece puzzles, taking short breaks to do other activities before returning to complete it. He now has some simple speech, and is happy to be left by him mum - facilitating her access to short breaks. Mum has said, '...loves coming to PLUS and gets a lot out of it as he can access varied experiences he wouldn't get at home. It's clear he has flourished attending PLUS as he now runs in and doesn't look back when I leave. He is always excited when he sees we are going to PLUS. I have massively valued PLUS support.' By investing some time with the child, Mum was able to benefit from a short break – but it also meant they could continue to benefit from attending Play and Chat, which had become too stressful for her due to her son’s inability to cope in the space.
Parents in the Falkirk area will become more networked with regular opportunities to meet with peers.
Families have been provided with opportunities to meet one another via Play and Chat as well as through the 3 family events. Fundraising events have facilitated by the parents to raise money for the group and to spend more time with other families. Parents have told us; 'It gave us a bit of time to concentrate on my daughter so has been great all round.' 'It allowed me to spend time with my other kids knowing he was in a safe environment.' 'Plus Falkirk has made a huge difference to both me and my son. Coming along to the parent group, I've made really good friends and the support from each other is priceless.' 'A particular highlight for me was PLUS enabling me to have a couple of hours respite. I have been able to have that little bit of time to either get important jobs done that I can't do when he is around or have a little bit of time to either get important jobs done that I can't do when he is around or have a little social time/rest catching up with friends.'
Families can find it difficult to take part in some social activities due to the specific needs of their children. Some families have described their short breaks as facilitating quality family time with their partners and children. One parent told us; 'It has allowed me and my husband to take my eldest son to the cinema to watch a marvel movie. Something R would never sit through. Together the three of us had real quality time together.' Whilst the parents find time with their peers invaluable - for example, via Play and Chat, their priority for their short break have often been to enhance their own family time.
80% of Families supported by the project will report that they feel better supported.
A variety of activities have been facilitated, offering families support which they didn't have before. All families who have accessed support from PLUS on a regular basis have valued the opportunities it has brought. Whilst some of this has related to the provision for their children, or the support from the organisation, a great deal of the support has been organic in its development and will have a lasting legacy following the end of the project. In the words of the parents; ‘it has allowed me to find a tribe... fellow mums (friends) who just get it. This has been invaluable.' 'PLUS Falkirk has been a life saver for our family.' 'The service has made a huge difference for me and my child. I have made a number of valuable friendships as a direct result of being involved in PLUS. It has made me feel less alone in my situation as a single parent to a child with Additional Support Needs. There's always someone I can turn to for advice if I need it.’
PLUS has been so much more than just a short break for families. They have developed true friendships as well. But most importantly, their home life has changed. One family, who had no support prior to attending PLUS activities told us; ‘When he started, he was a very withdrawn little boy due to the stress of being in a mainstream school and wasn’t coping. PLUS really has helped turn my wee boy into the happy, smiling wee boy that he should be… in fact, he’s always a nightmare trying to get him to leave as he loves it that much. Think we are always last out the door…!’ This turn around, in such a short space of time highlights the importance of early intervention and how this can increase the capacity of parents in their caring role through the reduction of worry and anxiety around their children. This parent has also now had the confidence to approach the local authority to ask for additional support for her child – something which she would not have known about had other parents not shared their knowledge and experience with her.
Families will have access to new services, and for some families this will be the only support they have in place. Where appropriate, we will consider introducing inclusive service delivery (this will be influenced by the needs of the individual children and their families)
For some families, the services offered by PLUS over the last 12 months have been the only access to support they have received, but for all families, this has been a new provision. For other families, they continue to access the local authority activities scheme. Due to limitations with our funding, we were only able to deliver the services as agreeing in our initial applications, and we were unable to fully explore an inclusive service delivery.
'My son did not have access to any other clubs/activities. Have tried him with others in the past and unfortunately he was unable to cope. So to have him included in a club has been fantastic for him and the whole family.' Having the opportunity to participate and access support has been invaluable for this family - particularly as there was no other support in place. Another family said; 'A service aimed at Additional Support Needs children in an area with almost no provision has been invaluable to my daughter, it's given her social opportunities whilst in an environment that allows her to be herself. It's given her confidence and self-esteem.' Some families currently participate in the local authority summer scheme for children with additional support needs. Families who access this support speak very highly of the provision. They value the short breaks they receive whilst their children are out having fun. However, they believe the support is not frequent enough. There is no support during school term time. Their children can find it difficult when they are used to routines, not being part of this programme until the holidays. Whilst it offers structure over a long summer, continuity throughout the year is lacking. Families believed that PLUS was able to fill this gap. To provide term time input on a monthly basis, with addition summer support to compliment the services from the local authority. Children knew what weekend of the month was a 'PLUS Weekend' and it gave them something to look forward to. Families in Falkirk have very limited opportunities for their children, and for them as a wider family. Additional services in the area can only be welcomed by them.
PLUS will be better informed by parents and carers in the Falkirk area with regards to how they view a short break, and what families want from this.
Families had the opportunity to participate in 57 Play and Chat Sessions. In addition the 3 family days brought additional opportunities for engagement and in general chatting with parents at the drop off and pick up of their children continued to keep us informed. We met with families and consulted with them in advance of identifying funding for this pilot project. By meeting with families weekly we have been able to develop positive relationships with them and have a better understanding of their needs and wants. As noted previously, many of the families view their short breaks as valuable time to invest in spending time with their other children. However the families also enjoy group social opportunities where they can attend as a whole family, safe in the knowledge that other families attending will be supportive of them, without judgement.
One parent commented; "we have had a highly committed group of families who have been invested in supporting the success of the project. They have become advocates for PLUS, speaking to families unsure about attending and encouraging them along. They have been supportive of the staff team and of the wider organisation. They are determined not to lose the support which they have benefited from over the last 12 months " Parents have become better informed about the types of services that they could access and they have been reflective in determining what they believe they require in their area, to meet the needs of their families. More regular group opportunities for children, continued support for parents – both formal and informal, opportunities to access mainstream clubs and group with support from PLUS, opportunities to ‘purchase’ PLUS directly, facilities with safe outdoor access, stronger partnerships with other organisations in the area. Families don’t necessarily want something groundbreaking and different. They just want responsive support, effective communication and some flexibility alongside staff they can trust and who can develop positive relationships with their children. They want to feel valued, that they are being listened to and that their children can have the same opportunities as peers living in different local authority areas. In their words; ‘There are a few siblings and I wondered if there might be an opportunity for them to do something together’. ‘I would like to see the buddy/support service for Beavers/Girl Guides etc being offered in Falkirk. Think this would have made a huge difference to C in possibly being able to access ‘mainstream’ clubs.’ ‘PLUS is a fantastic service and it has been a very successful year’