The Families Programme
A story by Angus Carers Centre
The Families Programme provides events/activities, designed to offer short break and respite opportunities to families living in Angus, who are supporting a child(ren) with an additional or complex need. These events are planned for the whole Family to attend -parents, cared for children & siblings.
What The Families Programme did
This funding provides part costs of the Families Programme Worker and a contribution towards our activities and volunteer costs (further costs met by additional funding provided by The Robertson Trust and Children In Need) As a result of having a funded worker we have been able to plan a total of 60 events, 56 delivered, unfortunately 4 events had to be cancelled, we will look to offer these again throughout our next year.
Our events programmes this year offered (term time/weekend/evening and holiday events) - 9 baking/soup kit options - provided by a local community supermarket (Community First, S-Mart Social Supermarket) and delivered by our Families Programme Worker to families at home, 254 kits delivered in total. Family Picnic and Games Day, Arbroath Beach activity day, Charleton Fruit Farm - Pick and Play Day, Camperdown Wildlife Park Visit, Dundee Murton Farm Movie Night - with giant inflatable screen, popcorn maker and hot dogs, Meet The Moths Experience - Ranger led activity, Crombie Country Park, Ryze Trampoline Park, Dundee (big family trip to mark the end of the school summer holidays) Nerf play sessions x 10 - delivered one per month in both Forfar and Arbroath (began in October holidays) 5 movie nights at our premises in Arbroath - Friday night one per month (not during summer months) Active Kids Adventure Park, Perthshire - family day trip with coach transport during October school holidays, Bat Walk - Ranger led activity, Halloween Stay and Play day, Arbroath 'Sensory safe' Bonfire Night, Murton Farm, Forfar, 3 x Alpaca Trekking sessions - small group sessions, 2 x Wild Shore sessions - Inflatable obstacle course on the River Tay, 2 x Pond dipping sessions at Crombie Park, 2 x Tipi and Firepit S'mores making nights, Murton Farm 2 x Orienteering sessions, Monikie Country Park, 2 x Foot Golf sessions, Brechin Golf Club.
During the Easter holiday we delivered an Easter Stay and Play day, baking kit option and a family trip to Innoflate in Aberdeen (giant inflatable obstacle course) as well as further Nerf sessions and movie nights. These sessions are attended by parent carers, cared for child and siblings.
What Angus Carers Centre has learned
It has been clear more than ever this year that we need to continue to be creative around how we offer short breaks to Parent Carers. Their need remains not to have time away from their cared for children but to be able to have experiences together, positively and safely with their families and within their own communities. Only then will they feel more able to access community resources independent of our service.
Our activities continue to prove popular and there hasn't been particular events that have proved more popular than others - for example we had the same amount of families opting in to larger scale holiday activities than we did for the smaller, more regular evening and weekend events. Pressures faced by the families we work with come from all angles and our programme offers them the outlets they need to maintain levels of mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
This year we have seen even more the needs of siblings within the home highlighted. They may not have the 'hands on' caring role many young carers have but there is no doubt that they are affected by a diagnosis within the family. They too have faced increased levels of anxiety around returning to school, activities etc as have the cared for children in their household and parental concerns about best ways to support them have become more apparent also.
How Angus Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
By having this funding in place it has helped us to get continued funding from Children in Need and The Robertson Trust. This means that the project has a larger activities budget (in order to accommodate the increased numbers opting in) and more of the Families Programme Worker costs are being met. Having a well established project in the Families Programme we were open to Covid response funding from Angus Council. This allowed us to provide families with food and entertainment vouchers to help with the increased costs/limited activity options that were exacerbated by Covid. Priority for these vouchers were given to those facing financial hardship (identified through our 1:1 support work with parent carers) and also to those who we were unable to accommodate on some of our planned activities. This has meant that families across Angus have been able to access their own creative respite opportunities (for example, takeaway pizzas to have family movie nights without having to dip into limited budgets, high street vouchers to help towards school clothing costs, accessories for a positive return to school, games vouchers, outdoor play items etc) Other funding we were able to tap into from Angus Council allowed us to conduct a pilot 'Siblings Project' - offering short term opportunities for time out for those affected by a siblings diagnosis. These took the form of a 6 week (90min evening session, once a week) DJ Skillz Workshops - delivered by a local organisation called Skillz Academy - and a 'sibs only' art workshop, delivered on 3 consecutive Saturday mornings, 10am - 2pm with a local artist. These sessions gave the siblings the space to express themselves, learn a new skill, get time out from their often stressful home lives and to meet up with other siblings in a similar situation. Building on this we are seeking further funding to have this embedded as part of our offering to parent carers and their families.
Children will have engaged in free play opportunities with other children and built friendships that will endure beyond the Families Programme activities. Deliver a minimum of 15 multisport activity sessions in two towns in Angus. Deliver a minimum of 24 further events/activities based on need.
Over the course of the programme this year we planned 60 activities (56 delivered and 4 cancelled due to changes to Covid restrictions) Our usual multisport activities looked slightly different this time around as we were unable to deliver them as we had previously. This was due to restrictions on venues, numbers allowed to participate and facilitators available to deliver the sessions. This year we offered 'physical activity' based activities to meet this outcome in the form of Nerf sessions (x11) Fox Lake private hire sessions (x2) Ryze trampoline park, orienteering (x2) and foot golf (x2). We also delivered 38 further activities for families to opt into (see list in previous section) Overall 72 families supporting a child(ren) with disabilities engaged with our project. This equated to 143 carers (adult and sibling) and 108 children with disabilities/additional support needs, at a time where Covid was still a barrier to engagement/access to activities for many families in Angus.
Parent Carer (LC) is a single parent caring for 4 children, 3 of whom have additional support needs. LC herself also has Autism. LC found the restrictions over Covid very daunting and isolating, more so than what she faced daily prior to Covid-19. With support from both Development workers LC was able to access activities during the October and Easter school holidays - a time which she finds particularly stressful given the changes to routines and structure (no school etc) After expressing concerns around her own ability to engage/attend (anxieties, challenging behaviours and transport barriers) we managed to find her space on the buses travelling to activities, introduced her to families from her town and supported her while at the activity to find 'safe' spaces for her and her children. During the course of the event LC was sitting with the other parents introduced to her and her children were playing well, both with each other and with other children at the event. Mum was visibly more relaxed than when we had met her in the morning and by the end of the event she had swapped numbers with some of the parents in the hope of being able to arrange play dates. Shortly after the event we found out that LC and her children had been invited to a Christmas party that a couple of other parents were trying to organise in their town, which LC attended and has since met up with these families again at more of our events as well as out with, therefore increasing the social opportunities available to her and her children.
Parent carers will have had monthly opportunities to access and ‘test’ new social environments and engage in a short break, thus improving family relationships. Parents carers will have improved social networks and opportunities to meet other parents in a similar situation.
Engagement in our monthly parent support groups tailed off with the move to 'online' groups as these were not always accessible or appropriate for some of our families. 1:1 support with workers over the phone/via text and email was maintained so carers were still 'reachable'. With the move back to face to face family activities engagement increased, showing us that families supporting children with disabilities had missed these social opportunities, for them and their children. We offered a number of activities that encouraged parent participation (Fox Lake, Ryze, Innoflate etc as well as smaller 'hands on learning' activities like pond dipping, Bat Walk and Meet the Moths sessions.) Active participation by the parents at these events helped foster a positive overall experience for the children. Parents reported that given months of home schooling etc that had preceeded this return to some form of normality that they really enjoyed being able to have fun with their kids and let loose.
A number of parents from one locality in Angus who had met at our activities just prior to Covid restrictions taking affect were able to re-engage with each other as we returned back to face to face activities. DH, TM and VB all support children with Autism and had really struggled throughout the restrictions. On re-engaging with our programme they linked in with each other once more and made plans out with our activities programme. We became aware of plans they had made around our activities (going for lunch afterwards, planning further trips together during the school holidays and even revisiting venues together that they had been supported to access with our programme.) Unfortunately it was reported back to us that their experience of a venue that they had previously attended with us in Aberdeen was not great when they chose to make use of a new branch in Dundee. This reiterated to us that the steps we take within the Families Programme to organise a private hire or to provide the wrap around support that we do is the basis for the successful experiences the families have with us.
Carers will have had regular opportunities for time away from their usual caring responsibilities and routines, and to spend quality time out with their families, thus reducing stress, increasing resilience and contributing to them feeling better able to manage and sustain their caring roles.
Given that many families had experienced increased isolation throughout Covid restrictions it was more important than ever for us to be able to provide them with support to access social opportunities. Increased levels of anxiety experienced by parents, sibling carers and cared for children throughout the pandemic meant that we had to re-engage families carefully to ensure that it remained a positive experience. Many families are repeat attenders - as in they will come to any (and all) events if able to be given spaces as they struggle to access mainstream activities within their own localities (either through lack of provision, failed attempts to engage previously or behaviours that carers feel would disadvantage their children's integration into new activities.) Our activities offer them familiar, 'safe' events with support that means they are better equipped to access venues on their own in the future.
SG is a single parent to her 14 year old son A. Both S and A had experienced highs and lows throughout the lockdown period and, as reported by SG herself, things had been a real struggle and she felt that where they had been in a positive place before Covid it was now clear that their relationship had suffered a few setbacks and they were in need of some light and fun to bring them back to a positive place. A's interests are very restricted and he struggles to engage with other children freely, so we made sure they were given priority places to the events he/they wanted to attend. (Nerf sessions, Active Kids visit, Innoflate and Codona's) These activities worked really well for A and he was able to engage positively on his own in the Nerf sessions while Mum sat in an adjoining room and got some time to herself. She reported back to us after one Nerf session that it was the "first time she had had a full hour uninterrupted in what felt like months!" After attending our Innoflate/Codona's trip recently we received a text from S "Hi, I just wanted to say thank you so much for today! That's the best day we have had in a long time. No Pressure, no arguments, nothing, just surrounded by like minded families. Sitting at the top of the Ferris wheel I had to fight back the tears because its the first time in weeks I genuinely feel happy. Honestly cannot thank you enough for all you and teams hard work putting that on for us. It is extremely appreciated xx" In the days following this activity SG told us that A had had such a great time at the event with us that they had actually gone back themselves and had another day out together to end the school holidays on a high.
Parent carers and the child they care for will have reported they have benefitted from, and enjoyed their short break activities/trips Families will have had access to an increased number of activities throughout high stress periods, for example school holidays
We know from our work with families that school holidays etc can place them under increased pressure (and financial stress) so we increase our offerings to weekly rather than monthly during these times. This increase in activities gives families more choice in what they can access when they feel they will need that extra support. We know from many families that accessing 'mainstream' clubs and activities can lead to negative experiences, heightened anxieties and an escalation of some behaviours and this can often mean that families choose not to access public venues/experiences due to fear/lack of confidence. During and after activities/events we run we receive lot's of feedback, either on specific things that worked well or it may even be just a heartfelt thank you for giving them spaces at an activity. More recently we have seen more parents re-visiting venues they have attended with us, enquiring at activities about hiring a specific venue or booking private sessions for peer groups
KH - Mum to 2 children, one of whom(FH)has Cerebral Palsy and spent many months throughout Covid on the shielding list. This was a very stressful time for the family as they have no other familial support in this area. Dad (GH) is a teacher at a school out with Angus and daughter (MH) was due to start school in Aug last year. This left the family open to lots of potential contaminations and it increased K's anxiety hugely. Given their already evident isolation prior to Covid it was clear that they were experiencing this much more as a result of restrictions. K and her family were signed up to the Families Programme and through some coaxing and reassurance they attended a pond dipping event with us not long after the first easing of restrictions. It was clear that M, who was only 4, thrived on being involved in group activities and loved learning, asking questions and getting stuck in with anything put in front of her. They have since attended 3 more events at the same venue, accessed baking kits and attended an alternative bonfire night activity. M, who attended some activities with her Mum (FH stayed at home due to infection/illness etc) has since been gifted pond dipping equipment and a bat detector for birthdays/Christmas since the event and the family now regularly go back to the country parks we used, and even further afield, to make use of them. This has increased the bond between M and her little brother and has allowed Mum and Dad to see their children thrive and learn together (FH uses Eye Gaze software to communicate, is tube fed and has little to no mobility without support) One of Mum's main concerns was that M was becoming a carer at such a young age and attending our activities "has given her a childhood back"