A story by Kindred Advocacy
To date we have held four events: a night out bowling, a DVD & pizza night at our main base in Edinburgh, a bonfire and BBQ within a community garden, and a Festive Fun party to celebrate the holidays coming. 35 young folk have attended between 1 and 4 events of their choosing, with each attending an average of 2 so far.
Saturday Nights, as the name suggests, wanted to capture the excitement about going out at the weekend, and catching up with friends and meeting new people. We planned to hold 6 monthly events, with an average of 23 young people attending each one. All of the young people have multiple support needs: most have Autistic Spectrum Disorder and/or mild learning disability and some have physical disabilities
Tip 1:Friendships: we are constantly reminded that for with YP with additional needs, just like anyone, friendships (making them, keeping them and breaking them) are personal and changing, but that this can have practical and financial implications when planning events.
We learned that you can't assume that because a parent says their child is friends with someone that they actually are. Anxiety can develop very quickly when someone's preferred pal chooses someone else to spend time with and this can lead to strained dynamics at events that staff need to unobtrusively defuse and distract from.
Accommodating emerging enmity between YP (as well as the opposite scenario when YP seem to be getting a bit too close, with rising hormones common to all teenagers) takes careful predicting and planning, from how taxis are shared, to who attends which events together, and ultimately to ensure the correct staffing provision so that everyone can have a good time.
Tip 2:Travel and inclusion: we found the cost of providing travel extremely high in our first year so this year we have tried to save on travel costs by providing taxis home for all YP rather than both ways. For some people, whether or not taxi provision can be made as part of the project will determine whether a young person can attend at all.
We found that by asking the question "could you attend without taxi provision both ways?" we were able to prevent people simply dropping out of the group because of economics or carer availability.
For instance we have one young man whose father works every Saturday night and whose mother is a carer for younger siblings at home, so public transport to an event is not an option - if we were not able to offer help with travel costs he would not be able to attend an event and his sense of isolation would be compounded. (Please note we use a registered taxi company that sets up bookings for our club and ensures that all drivers have Disclosure Scotland).
Tip 3:The importance of debriefing: for our staff and volunteers sharing knowledge after an event is a crucial use of . We have learnt so much from simply taking the time to meet as staff after each event to exchange any concerns about the evening, and about what works well, and what could be improved upon for next time.
Amongst other things this has led to us implementing "safe phrases" - a way of staff being able to attract attention from staff without escalating a possible situation in front of the YP they are supporting.
It also means that staff who may not have witnessed clashes between certain YP or concerning behaviour can feed it back so we can take steps to ensure that we try to facilitate those YP to behave appropriately and enjoy their next event.
The events all took place on a weekend night to encourage that sense of going out and doing something special and having a treat. Most young people chose to share a taxi home where appropriate which, as reported by parents and some of the YP themselves, adds to a sense of independence and increases the opportunity for people to get to know others in the group.
YP Case study 1: A young man "Tom" aged 17, who has a physical disability heard about the Saturday Nights Club through receiving one of our leaflets - on his application he stated 'This would be great if I can get a space I would love to meet new people and make friends'. He attended 5 events last year and his feedback included why he liked attending “The club is great...on a Saturday I can’t wait (to) meet my friends... Kindred club is mint that’s why!”. After attending our Festive Party this year he said that he liked the singing in particular... up on stage doing a rap number with a friend. Please see the Carer Case study 1 to get his mum’s point of view on all of this...
YP Case Study 2: Miriam (20) has Aspergers and struggles significantly in social situations. She wanted to find more opportunities to meet people and make friends, but the prospect of this was very daunting. She has many phobias and anxieties and, because of this, she tends to socialise online. As with all the young people, we offer the chance to meet with a member of staff prior to coming along to the first session if they feel that would enable and empower them to get the most out of the club. Miriam wanted to do this and benefited a lot as she felt safe and supported in attending. She really enjoyed the evening and told us that she was surprised by how well she had managed. Any concerns that Miriam did have around ‘not coping’ were allayed by the support that she received from staff and volunteers.
Case study 1 (mum to Tom, YP Case study 1) When Tom first applied to join Saturday Nights we asked what her hopes were for what the club would mean to her child and Sara told us: “that it helps him to gain confidence and life skills”. After taking part last year she told us one of the most valuable things the respite offered was “having a couple of hours out from being 'mum' made me look forward to seeing Tom”. She also said “I feel that (because of the Club) Tom has grown up a lot more and can take on more challenges”. This has been reflected this year too – when Sara heard from Tom that he had been up on our stage rapping: “It takes a brave person to do that” she told me, and that his growing confidence showed when, on returning home from our event he joined hers and her friends' musical gathering, when normally he would have kept to himself.
Case Study 2 Cara – (mum to Miriam YP Case Study 2) Cara, was really impressed at the level of support her daughter received to attend the group and that staff recognised this was a challenge for her and understood the importance of Miriam feeling enabled to attend. Cara was pleasantly surprised that Miriam felt confident enough to be left alone at the first session and that she was approaching people and participating in the evening.
However, the most surprising and rewarding element for Cara was the fact that Miriam ate when she was out in public (one of her phobias)! And that she enjoyed her time enough to be excited about the next group. Cara expressed that this opportunity had been really positive for Miriam, in particular, for her confidence levels and that it had afforded her the time to spend with her other daughters; something which she valued immensely following on from a difficult time within the family
Case study 1: a volunteer's perspective : One of our volunteers, a 20 year old sociology and psychology student, told us that working with the club has made her feel more involved with Kindred, her local community, wider society and with young people with additional needs. She added the experience led to her making new friends, feeling much more confident in herself when spending time with young people with additional needs as well as more confident about applying for other paid or non-paid work.
When asked if she had learnt from taking part in the project she told us “I followed the Kindred staff example a lot and learnt from their general mind frame and attitude”. She added she would recommend volunteering to everyone adding “it’s great to meet the young people involved in the programme and to get a chance to chat and spend time with them”.
Case study 2: what the club brought to the experience of the wider community at a community bonfire- according to a Community Garden group's Chair, "I hope you know that we truly did all enjoy having your group at the do. It certainly did not detract from my - and I'm sure anyone else's - enjoyment. Having you all there only added to it! And of course you and the other club staff made it easy for everyone to relax and have a good time. You make it look so easy, which I know is a very clever trick! I really hope all your group enjoyed the evening. We must pencil it in for next winter again!"
Case study 3: our own staff have further developed their capacity and skills in terms of delivering imaginative respite to YP with multiple support needs. We find our debriefing sessions at the end of each event a valuable time where we can share knowledge and find areas to improve our provision of events i.e. what went well, what could change for the better.
For instance this year we held an outdoor bonfire, trusting that carers and the YP themselves would self-select against coming to the event if smoke, fireworks, or the dark was something they knew wouldn't make for a good night out. Those who did want to do something a bit different, a bit scary, could come along and enjoy the excitement. .
We believe that parents' increased confidence in their child's ability to socialise would result in greater wellbeing for the carer and indeed the young person. We designed both our baseline and final evaluations to try to capture whether the funding had achieved this.
At the end of our last funding, our evaluations asked for feedback from carers and YP about how the Saturday Night's Club could be improved and what future events could be planned. All 22 Carer evaluations - (representing 37 Carers in total: 7 single parents and 15 parent couples), and all 23 YP evaluations reflected that if the Club were to continue they would wish to be part of it again, and suggestions on how the Club could be improved were asked for . These suggestions have subsequently been reflected in the design of this years’ project, in particular, with regards to the organising of an outdoors event (the bonfire and BBQ).
In response to questions asked in the "booking form" that all new YP and carers completed, personal and religious beliefs were highlighted and then respected with any catering/ shopping choices offering halal and vegetarian options (including vegetarian marshmallows toasted at the bonfire) , as well as health considerations taken into account to encourage inclusion. e.g. Kindred supplied gluten free pizza bases on our meals out, sorbet ices instead of ice cream at our recent party.
We also asked all YP and their carers if they were happy for us to take photos/film them participating in their nights out, and if so to use them in Kindred and other funder publications - their response was noted and respected.
Kindred also provide an advocacy service for children and young people with additional support needs in the Lothian's and Fife. We have observed that the two distinct services – the Saturday Nights Club and the YP Advocacy Service – are very complimentary. Several young people who receive advocacy support through Kindred identified a lack of social opportunities as a key issue within their lives and one that they would like to have more control over.
For many, their levels of confidence were so low that, without the preliminary advocacy work around building confidence, developing skills to speak up and participating and understanding their rights, they would not have felt empowered to take part in a social club such as Saturday Nights. It has been interesting to see the synergy between the two services and how one informs and shapes the other and we have noted the importance for many young people that they have identified a need in their life and then felt empowered to address this need.
Last year, one young person who was in statutory respite on the night of our Club party chose to attend our party instead (with agreement from his parent and the respite services: they saw it as important to facilitate his new friendships within the group). However in another instance, a young person was on a 1 week respite holiday and chose not to return from holiday just for one Saturday Night. This shows that the funding has been able to offer choice to both carers and young people who may already receive statutory short break provision, rather than simply replace it.
Young people are encouraged to develop skills whilst exercising choice (whilst supported by staff) in such things as purchasing non-funded (non-essential) elements of an event (e.g. a theatre programme, snacks at the cinema, drinks from a soft drink "bar" at a party). A lot of young people showed pride in being able to purchase things themselves with their own money.
We encourage the YP to believe their opinions and views are valued - from choosing events to take part in, to making suggestions, to their involvement at events taking photos or helping facilitate group activities, with support.
Strained dynamics between certain YP have an impact on staffing provision and support needs and need to be anticipated for each event. They also have knock-on effects on the suitability for YP to share a taxi and the associated higher travel costs.
Another challenge has been the changes that YP emerging into adulthood can have and how we need to be aware that someone trying to court another, can be perceived as frightening, or tip into inappropriate behaviour. Again this can have an effect on staffing and support provision for each event to ensure that all are safe and to encourage appropriate social behaviour.
We have previously identified the unanticipated benefits of raised confidence, and a sense of independence and freedom for YP and carers that travelling by taxi home from events can bring.
However encouraging self-travel to events has raised unexpected challenges from ensuring we have enough staff to assist a self-traveller who is lost, to facilitating contact between the YP and carer to let the carer relax knowing their child is safely at the group.
Although we are reaching families who already know of our service through the newsletter, the project itself has shown itself to become of interest when someone's child reaches a certain age or needs change at transition time. Word of mouth has led to a lot of interest and our project this year soon ran up a waiting list of people eager to join.
The kinds of multiple support needs include a YP with epilepsy, visual impairment and Global Developmental Delay who has a VP Shunt for associated Microcephaly and who is gastrostomy fed.
This YP adores bowling and will elect to eat some of the food on offer - e.g. we would try to offer ice cream as a desert so that they weren't excluded. Another YP has a learning disability, autism, dyspraxia, and a hearing impairment with associated hyper acoustic sensitivity and emotional communication difficulties - she would attend a social gathering like a party, but we would be prepared that she may need a calm, chill-out space and a higher level of staff support depending on how she is on that particular day.
The Family Baseline …"starting off…a few questions for parents and carers" was also designed to be a clear way of measuring on a scale of 1 - 4 how confident the carer felt about their childs ability to socialise, and also their expectations of the project and what it meant to them.At the end of the project we will send out evaluations asking how people feel re whether their expectations were met, and if they have had increased fun, respite etc... Throughout the project we ask for feedback whether by email, or through the regular telephone contact we have arranging or confirming attendance at events, which can offer us a gauge for what difference is being made, and how we can increase positive outcomes, throughout the project.