The Families Programme
A story by Angus Carers Centre
The Families Programme provides regular activities & events designed to offer short break and respite opportunities to families living in Angus, who are supporting a child/children with additional or complex needs. These events are specifically planned for the whole family to attend.
What The Families Programme did
This funding partly supports the salary of the Families Programme Worker in addition to funding activities and volunteer costs (further costs met by additional funding provided by The Robertson Trust and Children In Need).
As a result, Families registered with the Families Programme are invited to join in events and activities throughout the year. Activities are designed to fit around the main school holidays in addition to term time events taking place in the evenings and at weekends.
This year we have facilitated a total of 62 events including –
12 baking kit options delivered to families at home with a minimum of 30 kits delivered per option
20 Nerf sessions across 2 localities (Arbroath and Forfar)
11 Friday Family Movie Nights at our office building in Arbroath.
3 Stay and Play style events (one for Halloween, one for Bonfire Night and one for Easter)
Innoflate activity day
Codona’s Amusement Park in Aberdeen
2 Den building activity sessions with our local Countryside Adventure Team
2 locality beach visits
A private hire at a local soft play centre complete with Laser Tag
Day trip to Cairnie Fruit Farm and Playground
Day visit to the Scottish Deer Centre
Activity Day at Wild Shore (inflatable obstacle course on the River Tay)
Our project addresses the priority areas of working with families who have children who live with complex needs by providing a range of sports and active leisure opportunities to help to develop independence.
Each of these sessions were open to parent carers, children with additional support needs and their siblings, in order to provide families with opportunities for quality time out together and to informally provide peer support to parents and children.
We will continue to be develop the activities we offer to families. Ensuring that we provide the opportunities for families to experience activities in a positive and safe environment within their own communities. Only then will they feel more able to access community resources independently of our project.
What Angus Carers Centre has learned
After 7 years of running this project we like to think that we know what works and what doesn’t. There have been many tweaks and changes along the way, none moreso than during Covid 19, but we now have a quicker, more efficient way of sending bulletins and receiving replies than we did before.
This has streamlined the process and makes it much easier for the worker when it comes to allocating places at activities and collecting feedback. However, this doesn’t mean there are not still challenges and things to learn from, as with every new family that joins there may be a different set of needs that have to be addressed.
What constitutes a break for one family may not be the same for another, for example, for those children who are a little more capable in social situations the highlight of their programme may be the big, family days out, travelling on a bus and having a really active, full day.
For others, the opportunity to sit together as a family in a new venue and watch a movie together holds just as much importance and positive impact. Worker knowledge of the families involved allows us to allocate spaces in the most appropriate and fairest way.
Unexpected changes are the biggest challenge to running a successful programme, especially since we are supporting many children with ASD and ADHD where they need to know in advance what is happening, when, where and how can be the difference between a positive and a negative experience. This is often the hardest challenge that families face on a daily basis, for example changes to supermarket layouts, changes to teachers or support staff in school etc.
We work very closely with external facilitators and partners in advance of any activity to ensure that this is understood and that any changes being made have to be communicated in a timely fashion.
This works in reverse too, in the way that we may book a session for 30 kids but on the day that number may halve due to the particular challenges those families face resulting in non-attendance.
Previously this would often mean paying more for an activity as per an original quote/price but repeated use of certain venues/facilitators etc we are fostering a more ‘inclusive’ approach to pricing and many will now only charge for those that attend or will provide us with a larger discount at the time of booking. This helps us ensure that we are squeezing as much out of our funding as we possibly can and engaging as many families as possible.
How Angus Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
Securing funding from Better Breaks allowed us to explore other funders and we were lucky enough to be able to pursue further funding from Children In Need and from the Robertson Trust. We also received funding to establish a sensory room. This room is now being used regularly by families in the programme. We work closely with them to ensure their children benefit from all the facilities in the room. Having gathered a vast range of evidence, that working alongside families in this way allows us to. We have been able to identify unmet needs within families and we have secured funding to run a ‘test of change’ Brothers and Sisters programme, helping us to truly fulfil our ‘whole family approach’ to support carers and their families. Contact with so many families also helps us to ensure that parents are up to date with any funding that they can apply for on an individual basis to ensure that they can remain proactive in meeting the needs of their children, whether that be condition specific funds or more generally the Time To Live fund that has thankfully remained open to parent carers. The Families Programme allows us to observe family and peer interactions which provides us the knowledge to support families when making disability payment claims or when requesting support from other organisations, strengthening the advocacy side of our service
Children will be able to engage with other children and build friendships that will endure beyond the Families Programme activities. Enabling them to develop coping strategies and increasing their resilience, it will provide them with regular opportunities to meet and socialise with their peers
Our programme provides a mix of different activities for families to attend whilst providing the opportunity for them to meet with other families in similar situations. Activities vary from outdoor events to more relaxed sessions. Enabling us to provide appropriate activities which take the ages, capabilities and interests of the children into consideration. Activities are held throughout Angus & beyond, enabling families from different localities to have the chance to experience something they may not usually be able to access. Resulting in a reduction of feelings of isolation & ensuring that each family has something positive to look forward to. We are in regular contact with families at events and on a more supportive, 1:1 basis and it is from these interactions that we know what events to offer, what works well and what doesn’t. The events are an opportunity to introduce families to each other in the hope that they also build a peer support network outside the programme.
David and Blair – both children live with their families in the same locality but did not know each other. David spent his primary school years being home schooled and is beginning the transition to move into formal learning in secondary school. Both boys had attended a transition day at the local secondary school and at an event a few weeks later where both families were in attendance the boys had recognised each other. An ACC worker introduced the parents to each other as the boys had already paired up and were engaging with the activity and each other positively. At the end of the activity one parent came and thanked the worker for making the introduction as the parents have now exchanged numbers and are looking to create some opportunities together over the upcoming school holidays for the boys to engage, in the hope that this will allow them to build a friendship which they can then carry on into school, easing the transition for both boys and allowing the parents to feel comfortable that they will have someone to talk to/play with when they both move up. A challenge that for David’s Mum was daunting, given that he was going to be ‘new’ to the social side of school having missed out on this slightly with being home schooled. Both boys have similar interests and are keen to explore this peer link further.
Parent carers will have: Regular opportunities to engage with & ‘test’ new social environments, helping to improve family relationships. Improved social networks and opportunities to meet other parents in a similar situation. Enabling the sharing of knowledge and the building of friendships.
Alongside those who regularly attend, 21 new families have engaged with our activity programme this year with more being added to the programme but haven’t attended any activities as yet. This has increased the opportunities for them to socialise outside of their usual routines. These families have been able to interact with others in a similar situation, they have been able to try new venues, new activities and test children’s boundaries/capabilities in a safe and supported way.
Laura is legal guardian for her grandson (Kevin) after taking care of him since he was 2 weeks old. Kevin is a very active young lad but struggles with basic social aspects of attending clubs and groups. After speaking with Laura it became known that Kevin loves Nerf guns and has quite a collection himself. Knowing that we ran Nerf sessions and that there was a session coming up the worker invited Laura and Kevin to come along to see how he got on. The worker met with the family at the venue before other families were due to turn up so that Kevin could see the room set up and meet the support staff. The rest of the families turned up for the activity and the worker made a point of introducing the new members of the group. Kevin stayed with the worker to begin with but once the session started he became more confident and started to interact directly with the other kids in the group, making up ‘battle plans’ with another little boy in attendance. Parents sat with Laura at the side of the hall and chatted to her throughout the session. At one point during the session Kevin become a little upset and the worker was able to calm him without intervention from Laura – this was a massive thing for Laura as she stated that Kevin would never normally re-engage with an activity once he had gotten to that point of being upset. The rest of the session was really positive and another little boy referred to Kevin as his new friend, this clearly meant a lot to the family and Laura became quite emotional herself at the end, stating that she had already prepared herself for having to leave after 10 minutes as ‘that is what normally happens.’ This was such a positive experience for the family that we were really keen to know when the next one was and even suggested travelling to Arbroath to attend those sessions since the Forfar one went so well. Kevin now wants to bring his own guns to the sessions for ‘him and his friend’.
Parent’s will be able to expand their peer support networks. Parents can share experiences & knowledge with each other & use this practical & emotional support to help them in their own caring role. Parents will have had access to, and support from, centre staff at all events & activities.
Our programme provides the activities for children to engage in so that parents/carers can get a little time to themselves while still being in attendance. We have members of staff available to help support the children to engage. ACC staff members help to relieve some of the pressure on parents to fulfil this role. This allows them to engage in conversation with others who face similar challenges and to draw on the experiences of others who may be ‘further on’ in their journey. Whilst knowing that their children are in safe hands and enjoying the activities, whilst the parents can watch from the sidelines.
Kirsty is a single parent to 4 children (3 with additional needs) Shelley is a single parent to 2 boys (1 with additional needs) and Lynne is parent to one boy with additional support needs. Lynne has been attending our service for many years and describes it as a ‘lifeline’ for her and her son. Kirsty and Shelley are a little newer to the Families Programme and have attended many events but never the same ones. Lynne has had interactions with both of the other parents at activities before and became very friendly with Shelley, arranging play dates for their children during school holidays etc. At an event in 2022 all 3 parents were in attendance and Lynne actually made the introductions between Kirsty and Shelley on the day. 4 months on and several shared activities later and now the three parents are all meeting up regularly, supporting each other through challenges with housing, schools etc and the children really enjoy each others company. At one point 2 of their brothers/sisters were both registered with our Young Carers service and were attending groups at the same time. The relationship they had developed through the Families Programme meant that even when starting their own new groups, they had someone familiar to chat with and this helped ease the transitions for them too.
Children with an ASN and their carers will have increased peer support networks through attending our events. Parent carers will share experiences and knowledge with each other and use this practical and emotional support to help them in their own caring role
We know that by ensuring there are members of staff available to provide 1 to 1 support to parents at all events means they can tap into the support informally, without having to find ‘spare’ time within their busy, often stressful daily routines. School holiday time can be extremely stressful for families and can place them under increased pressure (and financial stress) so we increase our activities to weekly rather than monthly. This increase provides families with more activity choice and additional support, when they feel they need it. 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. This programme empowers families to try out new activities and venues with the support of their peers in a safe and understanding environment.
Helen cares for her son Jamie, she also works at his school so is on call for dealing with any challenges during the day and so gets very little time ‘away’ from her caring role. At home her son has been refusing to leave the house other than for school and this has been going on since at least October last year. Having discussed our Nerf sessions with Helen it was agreed that since Jamie loves Nerf we would use this as a way to try and get him engaging in something outside of his usual, restricted routine. After attending a few of these sessions (starting with 20 minutes outside of the main hall and eventually being able to build this up to full sessions with slight interaction with his peers). Whilst he hasn’t yet managed to engage fully with the whole group he is still coming along regularly and staying for the full hour which is a massive step forward. At one of these sessions the worker had been chatting to Helen about ways to get him out of the house and doing things he enjoys and it was identified that he used to love going out on his balance bike and a plan was made to use Time To Live funding to purchase a new one for him. After this purchase was made, follow up between the worker and Helen showed that they had managed to get him out on his bike twice the first week and then everyday after school since, this even included 2 trips out of the house in the same day, allowing the whole family to get back to the beach (it had been over a year since they had been and they only live a 10 minute walk away) Building on this, waiting list places for our Brechin Castle event were offered during the Easter holidays, and although Helen didn’t think he would agree, the day came and despite the slightly miserable weather, along came Jamie excited to play in the park. Jamie stayed for the whole 3 hour session and even beyond when staff had already left. A text received from Helen later that day stated how proud she was of him pushing himself outside of his comfort zone and trying things that he had never done before. She also added how much ‘lighter’ she felt having spent so long out of the house engaging positively with her son but also that she had really enjoyed the fact that she had been able to talk with other parents while she was there, her final statement was it was ‘a massive win all round’.