Stepping Out Residential Short Breaks for Carers
A story by Care for Carers
We provide weekend residential short breaks for carers called Stepping Out. The breaks are organised with activities, therapies, learning something new, outings, events and lots of social opportunities to bring carers together. Carers are free to join in with all the activities on offer or to take time out as they please.
What Stepping Out Residential Short Breaks for Carers did
Creative Breaks funded 20 carer places on our Stepping Out short break service and supported the costs of the Short Breaks Co-ordinator post. These places were prioritised for kinship carers, carers from minority ethnic groups, carers caring for a person with a mental health illness and living in areas of deprivation. 50% of the places were allocated to carers who had not used the service before. The breaks took place at the Low Port Centre in Linlithgow. We started off with a waiting list of 30 people and 10 of these fitted the Creative Breaks criteria and were allocated places straight away, the remaining 10 were new to the service and were Kinship Carers and Minority Ethnic Carers. Creative Breaks funding enabled us to hold a women only weekend which had been identified as a need for women from mixed cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
As part of our application we had established working partnership agreements with Support In MInd Scotland and Family Addiction Support Services (Glasgow). We promoted the service through all our contacts, publicity leaflets mail drops and existing lists and via staff promotion at various events.
We used the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation scale to identify carers living in areas of greatest deprivation.
The break is structured so that carers share meals and have plenty time to get to know each other with planned activities happening throughout the weekend. Carers often arrive tired and stressed or anxious if they have never used the service before so we always spend time to de-stress and relax on the Friday night. Saturday is packed with options, whether it is a workshop around personal development such as confidence building or dealing with stress or a new thing to learn such as Silk Painting or an outdoor Archery session or a trip on the canal or sailing on the loch. There is always an evening event on the Saturday with entertainment and time out away from the Low Port Centre. Sunday has a social activity to wind down the weekend and time for carers to tell us about the experience and how they feel about it.
This year we have had recruitment for the Short Breaks Co-ordinator post.
(This case study was written by a member of the community health team who had originally referred the carer to the Stepping Out service)
Mrs W is a woman in her early 50’s. She lives in a 2 bedroom house with her husband and 3 adult sons. Mr W suffered a stroke a few years ago at the age of 50 and requires 24 hr supervision due to mobility issues, seizures and personal safety. Their middle son, L, was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Since Mr W’s stroke the family dynamics have changed considerably. Mrs W had to give up work to care for her husband. He was the driver of the family and is now unable to do this, they no longer have the use of a car. The loss of employment for Mrs W was not merely about the loss of income – she lost a great deal of independence, social contact and feelings of identity and purpose. The family have gone from 2 incomes to living on basic benefits.
Alongside these increased responsibilities for her husband at home, Mrs W’s son was admitted under MHA detention to hospital due to the severity of his mental illness. For Mrs W the household never shuts down due to the extensive caring needs of her husband during the day and her son at night when he rarely sleeps and is often agitated.
The impact these events have had on Mrs W are enormous. As workers we did not consider that existing services locally could meet her increasing needs, feelings of isolation, overwhelming responsibility, stress, fatigue and depression. Mrs W had no time for herself and had become increasingly isolated from friends – especially female ones. As at team we were becoming increasingly concerned about her own mental health and wellbeing.
A member of staff received information about the Stepping Out service and a worker from the team supported Mrs W to consider taking part in it. Mrs W attended a Stepping Out Weekend in summer 2014. She was keen to go but needed support to get there. We assisted her to get a bus pass as she wanted to travel independently. On return from the weekend – she reported that, “you have saved my life”. Mrs W told us that she had spent the weekend with others who understood her situation perfectly. She made friends with one woman in particular and they continue to support each other informally on an ongoing basis. She is now considering joining a Carers Support Group – which is outwith her locale as this will give her some anonymity and she said she would prefer this. The bus pass has helped her to access this new friend and support group. Mrs W also enjoyed 2 nights of quality sleep and time for herself which helped to re-energise her.
It goes without saying – she wants to attend another weekend. The benefits to her have been immense.
A is 43 years old, single woman, she cares for her grandson. Her daughter is a problematic drug user and is unable to care for her son. A attended Stepping Out weekend at Lowport, this was the first time she had been away on her own without her grandson. Her grandson is 7 years old. At the beginning of the weekend A was very anxious about being away from her grandson, she was worried that he would miss her and his behaviour would be difficult. A was not connected to Kinship Carers Groups where she lived before the weekend. She found chatting to other kinship carers very helpful as many of them were in a similar situation as her and had similar concerns.
A had an aromatherapy massage for the first time in her life and said that she felt so much calmer and relaxed. The next morning she took part in the art workshop, she then went shopping with the other carers. In the afternoon she participated in the Archery workshop, something she said she had never tried but thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She said “she hadn’t laughed so much in ages”. Later that evening A joined in the sing along and enjoyed dancing.
A noted in her evaluation that she was surprised how much she had enjoyed the weekend as she was very unsure that she would be able to relax enough to stay through until Sunday, when Sunday came she wished she could have stayed longer.
She said meeting other kinship carers had really helped her realise she is not alone and had found out there is help and support for kinship carers. She said being able to be honest about her feelings was like a weight lifted as she had felt guilty sometimes about how she felt about suddenly having to look after a young child again but to hear that other carers also felt these feelings and that it was ok made her feel heard and understood. She said she has made new friends who she is looking forward to catching up with. She felt her batteries had been recharged and that she felt like a “new woman” and she can’t wait till the next Stepping Out weekend, she also said she would prefer the weekend would be specifically for kinship carers.
A group of 6 kinship carers from the FASS project attended the Stepping Out service for the first time this year. These are carers due to parental addiction and whilst most are also a grandparent to that child, one carer is the child’s aunt.
These ladies ages span from 50 years of age with the eldest being 72 years old. Many of the carers suffer from poor health and some of them are now a kinship carer through bereavement. These ladies care for a total 6 children, many of whom have had to access additional support through Notre Dame in Glasgow due to the children’s challenging behaviour.
The 72 year old lady in particular only lost her son 2 years ago and has not been able to grieve properly due to the fact she is now bringing up 3 grandchildren. Her own health is poor and in a cruel twist of fate all 3 grandchildren have a genetic heart condition which is highly likely to shorten their lifespan. Recently one of the grandchildren contacted the charity Wish upon a star, to grant a wish for a mobile phone!
Another lady in this group has now lost both her siblings to drugs and looks after her niece whilst raising her own family at the same time.
One of the carers used to work full time, enjoyed a social life and holidays abroad. Her life has changed dramatically since caring for her grandchild. She had to give up work due to the disruption the child’s behaviour was causing as she would often be called to the school and has struggled to deal with the child’s numerous exclusions from the education authorities.
Above is a snapshot of the situation many kinship find themselves in and the stress they are under. They know the reality is that if they don’t step in to care for these children, who are in these situations through no fault of their own, it is extremely likely that child will go into care and be on the road of being placed in numerous foster homes etc. Many also still have to cope with the chaos that their own son or daughter is in due to their addiction.
The Stepping Out short break at Linlithgow was a fantastic opportunity for these carers to have much needed time to themselves. To be in a safe, fun and caring environment where they could relax and for once just concentrate on themselves.
The ladies told me they felt their stress levels just strip away, bonding took place that weekend ,with many new friendships being formed, reducing the feeling of isolation. Their resilience was built back up again as well as their self-confidence. The group are planning to attend the Stepping Out reunion ceilidh in November under their own steam and are looking forward to meeting up with other carers from different areas again.
What Care for Carers has learnedThe fund has enabled us to continue developing the service, tweaking each break to fit the carers needs and staff time to engage with carers before the break as well as during and after. This has made the service even more responsive, particularly to vulnerable carers who are struggling because their caring role has negatively affected their own mental health and life choices.
We have learnt a lot about the increasing complexity of carers lives and roles. The funding has enabled us to work with new groups such as Kinship carers and learning about their lives and caring situations has been a humbling experience. These carers as the case study above illustrates are caring for children often with complex social, medical, physical and mental health needs. Set in a background of years of battling to support a loved one with an addiction. Connecting with these carers was only possible by building links with an organisation they already trust (FASS, Glasgow). Without the support of that organisation I doubt that the carers would have come to the service as individuals.
We have learnt that there is an increasing demand for our service and that carers want to have it as part of their support plan. They want to know they can re-apply, that they have a place and that it is on the calendar so they can look forward to that on a bad day. Our challenge and it is a big one is how we fund the demand, particularly at this time of huge change when not all carers want to or are able to connect with self directed payments, personal budgets etc. We have a service where people feel safe and secure and trust us to look after them for a little while, making us accessible to carers who are in heavy caring roles, struggling with their own emotions and responsibilities.
We have learnt that we have to support carers to access funds and opportunities to get other breaks but this is time consuming and we are limited in this area.
We know now that to engage with female carers from minority ethnic backgrounds we really need to hold women only breaks and tailor the social activities to accommodate their cultural needs. Over 25% of the women on the women only break this year came from minority ethnic backgrounds, much higher percentage than on generic weekends.
The gap we haven't cracked is for rural carers, particularly remote rural carers. We would need to get face to face with projects, organisations in these areas and build up relationships and again we haven't had the staff time required to do this.