Shetland (Time Out) Project
A story by Voluntary Action Shetland
Our project is part of our Carer Support Service, delivering a Short Break Service in Shetland to both children and young people with disabilities and their carers. This was done through a range of targeted activities and groups which all aim to give time out which promotes the caring relationship.
What Shetland (Time Out) Project did
During the pandemic, groups were unable to meet face to face. This meant that the project needed to work flexibly and quickly to offer some support to our participants. Staff were upskilled to deliver groups virtually - either on Zoom or a closed Facebook group. Staff ensured that the latest government guidance was followed which took a lot of time to work through.
Our project was able to deliver 20 sibling/sibling and family sessions. These were offered monthly with more in the school holidays. They were delivered face to face when restrictions allowed, and on Zoom when we couldn't be physically together in the same space. Siblings of young people with additional support needs were able to have a regular break from their caring role, doing fun and exciting activities. The parent carers were able to have a short break from their caring role to do the family shop, go to the gym or even just sit down for a cup of coffee. The sibling group activities ranged from visiting the museum and cinema to learning to juggle and do craft activities with lots in-between! In some cases, the support offered by our project was the only support the families had throughout the pandemic.
Parent Group was able to meet virtually 4 times through the year. Parents were able to contact staff for individual support when needed as well as being able to access peer support from our closed Facebook group.
The participants of these groups were able to join in activities as they felt they needed to. There was no pressure to take part but all activities were well attended, no matter how they were delivered. Referrals came from other organisations but there was also an existing group of participants.
Our project was able to address the following Better Breaks priority areas - Sports and Active Leisure, Independence and Diversity - by completing our groups.
What Voluntary Action Shetland has learned
This has been a huge year of learning. Our service has never been more needed.
As a third sector organisation, we were able to quickly respond to the pandemic and tailor our activities accordingly. This was vital to give the support to new and existing families that were so in need of it. Speaking more regularly with families allowed us to offer ongoing support that was relevant to them and helped in some way to stop them feeling so isolated.
We needed to think of ways to deliver our groups during the pandemic as it was vital that they continued in some form. We had to be flexible and imaginative with this. This led to the upskilling of staff in terms of social media and use of the Zoom platform. Training was undertaken around these topics and even how to deliver games over zoom! We delivered juggling workshops over zoom and magic shows - this is something that we wouldn't have thought was possible before!
Keeping up to date with the restrictions and government guidance was time consuming but vital to the successful running of our face to face groups. This understanding of the guidance allowed us to offer fun and safe activities to our families. We are carrying forward at least two things from this trying time. One is needing to book onto activities - in the past, people could just turn up. The second is completing consent forms over email/digitally so paper wasn't being exchanged and handled. This has worked very well and will be kept in operation. I feel the families we work with know us better now, and trust us to give them the support they need. This can only be a good thing!
Due to the pandemic, more time has been spent talking to funders about what could and couldn't be delivered within the service. This has improved and strengthened relationships.
How Voluntary Action Shetland has benefitted from the funding
The funding and support from Better Breaks allowed us to continue to deliver services to the families we work with. This has been vital. In some cases, we were the only service that was able to offer support through the pandemic and beyond. This has strengthened our reputation within our community and allowed us to develop closer working relationships with other organisations e.g. the local council. The upskilling of staff has allowed more flexibility to our sessions and allowed us to 'think out the box'. This has made our service more accessible to some people e.g. those who live in isolated communities or outlying islands, and helped them feel less alone. Staff have been able to be really creative with the sessions they deliver and the use of Zoom has meant that training could be accessed from home without extra travel time and cost. This without doubt has been positive and allowed staff to access more training than they usually would.
Lego group is an evidence based therapy. We will have 4 x 6 week sessions, 5-6 participants with 70% attendance. The child is participating at some level within the session. All skills learnt can help with transitions and daily interactions.
We were unable to complete these sessions in a face to face capacity due to ongoing Covid restrictions. At the start of the pandemic, we moved this group online to a private closed Facebook page and set challenges for them to complete at home. Due to a need for digital safety and monitoring, it was felt that it was only appropriate for parents to join this group and relay the challenge to their child. This relied on parents being able to access Facebook and being happy to post photos of the creation to the group. We found that, although there was a good initial interest, this waned over time as parents and children suffered from digital fatigue. We set five challenges and had a few responses.
Davie and Jake are brothers, and they live in an isolated area of the main island. This means that they rely on each other for company and for support. Davie has autism and it is hard for him to attend mainstream clubs due to the level of support he needs. Both brothers were able to come along to one of the 6 week sessions of Lego Club - this was delivered before this grant money was in place and before the pandemic. However, both boys enjoyed it so much and gained so much from it, their names were on the list for the sessions we had planned for Easter 2020. Due to the pandemic and lockdown, we were unable to deliver these planned Lego Group sessions. Both boys and mum were disappointed but completely understood why this had to happen. Mum was offered the opportunity for the boys to take part in the closed Facebook group for Lego Club that we created. Mum read out the challenges set by the leaders to the boys and they were able to complete the challenges with their own Lego, in their own home. Mum then uploaded a photo of their creations on the Facebook group. Mum shared that this Facebook group allowed her boys to feel included and remembered about when they as a family felt so isolated and alone.
Carers, siblings and the child with additional support needs will be offered opportunities to participate in different activities throughout the year. Siblings are given the opportunity to spend time with children in a similar situation to themselves, and parents can be given child-free respite.
Sibling Group / Family days Target: 20 sessions for siblings and/or siblings and families Delivered: 3 online Sibling Group challenges set. 6 zoom Sibling Sessions organised. 7 face to face Sibling Sessions completed. 4 Family Day sessions completed. Total - 20 sessions This outcome has been fully achieved. We have delivered a mix of face to face sessions when restrictions allowed, and virtual sessions on zoom when needed. The face to face sessions have been hugely popular and very well received by families. New children were able to attend and this gave more parents child-free respite time at a time when it was never more needed. The virtual sessions on zoom were better attended during the second lockdown in January/February than during the first. This may have been due to digital fatigue in the first lockdown, and a feeling of this being our 'new normal' by the second lockdown.
Daisy lives with her brother, mum and dad. Daisy's brother has learning difficulties. Daisy, although younger, supports her sibling to do day to day activities. For her, it is just a normal part of what she does. Daisy's brother attends a social group every weekend. Daisy has been attending our Sibling Group for a number of years and loves it! Once a month when Sibling Group is on, both children are at a group at the same time so mum and dad get child free respite time. Mum has shared that sometimes they are able to do their 'big shop' during this time. Other times, they go to the gym together or even just go for a coffee. During the pandemic and lockdown, some of the Sibling Group sessions needed to be delivered on Zoom as the restrictions didn't allow any face to face group interactions. Daisy loved these sessions on Zoom and often requested to play 'Find Me'- a very active game where you all have to find something starting with a certain letter. During one of these zoom sessions, Daisy's friend came to the door to ask her to play. Daisy said she wanted to stay to finish the Sibling Group session! Mum said that Daisy had been using Zoom for other groups and would leave them if her friend came. Mum said that Daisy staying in the Sibling Group zoom showed how much fun she was having, and how much she valued being part of it.
Having more parents participate in the parent sessions and organising a trip in Shetland that will include some of the sibling group. Success will be them coming away feel refreshed and exhilarated from everything they have achieved.
Parent Sessions Target: 4 parent sessions Delivered: 4 zoom sessions offered, and we have been able to provide individual 1:1 support where needed. All parents were offered the opportunity to be part of a closed Facebook group where we ask different questions and other parents can offer their thoughts and experiences. This worked really well at the start of lockdown and parents were able to gain information and reassurance from others who are experiencing the same thing. All parents were contacted to find out how they were coping through lockdown and we were able to offer individual support at this time as well. This also took place in the second lockdown. Unfortunately, due to covid restrictions, we were unable to organise a trip within Shetland.
Katie's son Tom has autism. Usually days are packed full of school, respite, different activities and routines. During the pandemic and lockdown, the usual routines were severely disrupted which caused Tom and Katie a lot of stress. Tom relies on routine and without it, his days had no meaning and were confusing and scary. Katie was able to access our closed Facebook group for peer support. Parents in this group were sharing their different ideas for coping with these pandemic restrictions e.g. having the same morning and bedtime routine as usual. This in itself was very helpful and allowed parents to feel they weren't going through this alone. One of Tom's favorite things to do was go for a walk out with their immediate living area. Due to the restrictions, Katie felt she was unable to keep to Tom's favorite walk schedule. Other parents were able to signpost her to the part of the restriction document that allowed people who had additional needs to travel to somewhere they could safely exercise, even if this was outside their immediate living area. Without this group, Katie would have been unaware of this exception. Knowing this allowed Katie and Tom to travel in their car to their usual walking place and allowed them both to stick to a little of their usual routine.
On the project we are measuring the wellbeing scores for people over a period of time. Success is when these scores are improving over a period of time. We will also look at some of these scores as a family.
This was completed throughout the pandemic and families could be signposted to other organisations within and out with Voluntary Action Shetland that may have been able to help them. Signposting to other individual grants allowed parent carers and their families to have an ongoing break in pandemic times e.g. getting gardening equipment - time out from caring role activity as well as something cared for person could participate in. As mentioned before, parents were given access to our Parent Group delivered on Zoom, and to our closed Facebook group for Peer Support. All parents were contacted throughout the pandemic and were able to gain individual support from staff when needed. This gave them a little bit of reassurance and a link to someone out with their immediate caring role.
See case study 3 above.