The Families Programme
A story by Angus Carers Centre
The Families Programme provided events/activities throughout the year, 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 specifically planned for the whole family to attend.
What The Families Programme did
This funded year we offered 38 activities, engaging with 65 different families (123 carers/young carers and 80 children with disabilities.)
These activities included:
6x Sportzone/GLOW game sessions in 3 Angus towns, 2x family day trips in school holidays to St Andrews aquarium and Craigtoun Country Park.
13x Family Movie nights (Fridays, 1/month held in our office building) 3x visits to local beaches for summer picnics/activities, 1x activity evening at Murton Nature Reserve where we popped popcorn and toasted marshmallows over a fire pit, went mini-beast hunting and bird watching.
1x 'Try Curling' session with local coaches (planned for 2 sessions but due to coach availability we could only facilitate one) 1 x Climbing wall activity
4x Stay and Play days (Meet the Animals petting zoo, Superhero Training Academy, Halloween Party and a Christmas Party - held in our own premises)
1x Birds of Prey experience, 1x Parents only meal (during school summer holidays) 1x Family ‘Camp Out’
Families registered with our service are referred into the Families Programme as a result of needs identified in an Adult Carer Support Plan. Those wishing to attend activities offered in the newsletter returned a completed reply slip, ‘opting in’ to activities. If events were oversubscribed the Families Programme Worker (FPW) and Carer Development Worker(CDW) discussed the needs of the families and the appropriateness of the event, families were then placed on a waiting list and advised the event was oversubscribed.
If cancellations happened before the day, the FPW assigned places to those on the waiting list accordingly. The FPW and CDW have a close working relationship and thorough knowledge of the families they support on an individual basis, helping to ensure families are offered the right events at the right time.
This year we linked with a local charity, Skilz Academy, and they have delivered GLOW games sessions as part of our programmes and we are looking into ways of working together to open up new opportunities for both organisations, and the families we support.
As a result of BB funding we were also able to recruit 2 sessional workers to support our activities.
What Angus Carers Centre has learned
This project has been running for over 4 years now and the learning continues. Don't get hung up on the fact that not all children engaged in the actual activity...they turned up, that is still an achievement.The families we work with sometimes struggle with things the rest of us take for granted - simply being in the games hall at a bouncy castle party for instance.
The noise of the generator, the echo in the hall, bright fluorescent lights and 19 other children laughing, giggling, squealing all present the potential for sensory overload and shutdown. Just because that one little boy hasn't set foot near the bouncy castle don't assume the event wasn't for him, the mere fact that he is sitting there colouring in at a table while all around him there are potential triggers - this is a victory!
Formalise partnership working both/all parties need to be aware of and agree to what is expected of them, the targets you are both aiming to achieve. Informal work with other organisations can work really well but if things go wrong or targets are not met and standards are not achieved who is accountable?
Commitment from one of our informal partners started to decrease, it seemed it was becoming too easy for our sessions to be cancelled at short notice despite the knowledge that our families do not cope with changes at short notice well at all. As a worker have realistic expectations, and do not be disheartened if things do not live up to what you had planned/imagined.
Always look for the positive, no matter how small. For example, our families had been talking about residential trips for a while but in reality there were always barriers, financial, geographical or otherwise.
Well last summer we finally planned a "Big Family Camp Out" to end the summer holidays with. We had a venue suitable for our needs and 28 families signed up, we put a shout out through our social media for donations of camping equipment so that families who didn't have everything could loan instead of buy for one night. In fact, a number of families decided to book into the camp site for the night before to make it a 'mini holiday' -unfortunately, in typical Scottish weather fashion, there was a thunderstorm the night before, the campsite was waterlogged and our 28 family camping extravaganza turned into 5 families and staff/volunteers in a soggy field...BUT those 5 families had a blast!
First time camping for one little boy who normally wouldn't set foot outside of the house in the rain. By the end of breakfast the following day he was marching around the camp site, tidying up, washing his own dishes in the "Camp Kitchen" heading off to the pond dipping pond with his net and his wellies, followed keenly by 8 other intrepid explorers.
His parting shot before he and his family left the camp site was "I can't wait to do this again next time!" It may not have been the camping trip we had planned but it still had a hugely positive impact for the families.
Risk assess - risk assess - risk assess! Get to know your families, understand their concerns, the barriers they perceive, see things through their eyes. For example, we have one little boy who given half a chance will make a run for the nearest fire exit, his Mum was always a nervous wreck in soft play centres with hidden corners for him to escape through etc.
Knowing this means that when the FPW visits the venue beforehand they can include positioning of fire exits into the risk assessment, plan staffing levels accordingly and inform the venue staff of any potential 'risks' all the while allowing us to reassure the parent before the day of the event and make it as pleasant an experience as possible.
How Angus Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
Having funding from Better Breaks helped us to secure further funding from Children In Need, helping to facilitate an increase in the FPW salaried hours and allow recruitment of sessional workers. Funding has allowed us to continue to deliver our programmes which are a much needed source of respite for our families. With the project maintaining a steady stream of referrals year on year we are constantly receiving feedback on services available to families in Angus and discovering areas of unmet need. With this, we are looking at the potential to expand our service to include a Sibling Carers Support Service, for those affected by a siblings condition but who do not necessarily have the level of caring role required by our Young Carers Service criteria. Funding this year has also allowed to link in with Skilz Academy, delivering UV sessions. Discussions between the FPW and the service lead at SkilzAcademy have presented possible areas of programme development between both organisations, and possible joint funding opportunities, that we are keen to pursue.
Children will have engaged in free play opportunities with other children and built friendships that will endure beyond the Families Programme activities. We aim to deliver a minimum of 15 multi-sport activity sessions in two towns in Angus and a minimum of 24 further events/activities.
This outcome was achieved to the best of our ability. We delivered a total of 12 sports based sessions throughout the programme, having planned to deliver 17 events. Some sessions that were scheduled had to be cancelled due to coach availability/sickness. We did attempt to reschedule, but unfortunately we could not get date/venue availability to coincide. However, sessions that did take place engaged 24 families/41 children across 3 localities. We delivered a further 26 events, providing 41 more families with access to free activities and meaningful play and social interaction opportunities. Families attend multiple events allowing parents and children to become familiar with each other, children bond through shared experiences and meeting at other events cements these bonds. Children are turning up to events asking staff if their ‘friend’ is coming, parents are exchanging contact details to arrange play dates outside of our planned activities and are able to sit and chat at events.
At our yoga sessions, we had a small group of 5 families, 9 children. One little boy (HH who has been with the Families Programme since he was 4, now 7), is very active and can be quite demanding on people’s attention, especially in a small, captive group. The instructor worked very well with him and he was able to engage fully in parts of the session. These sessions were also attended by a little girl (HR) and her Mum (RR) who regularly puts yoga routines into her day. HH and HR both have an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis and HH has ADHD also. They both struggle in social situations, HR being a bit quiet and shy and HH being boisterous and loud. Both children have struggled to make and keep friends at school. By the end of session 2, HH had taken to HR and ‘buddied’ himself up with her, moving his yoga mat closer to hers and making sure he was picked by her during partner work. Session 4, HH came bounding into the yoga space asking where HR was. On this occasion, HR and her mum were running late, and HH refused point blank to let the instructor start without them. By the end of the 5 sessions that took place both Mum’s had exchanged phone numbers and were planning a play date at a local play farm. RR even suggested that if HH’s Mum felt the yoga was something she wanted to continue to try with HH then she was welcome to join RR and HR at their home to go through poses etc. At events since, where both families have attended, the children will seek each other out. They seem to find a positive balance with each other, one bringing the other out of their shell, and likewise one being a more calming influence on their new friend.
Parent carers and the child they care for will have reported they have benefited 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.
This outcome was achieved through delivery of weekly activities during school holidays, as opposed to monthly or ad-hoc activities during term time, increasing the options available to parents during a time where the pressure to have something planned into their routine is hugely increased. The majority of families we support are caring for one, or multiple children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and we know how important routine, planning, consistency and action completion can be to some of these children. By attending our events they can ease the pressure to 'keep the kids occupied' safe in the knowledge that once a week, the Families Programme can take over and provide the family a short break from their usual routines. Evaluation forms returned evidence that 83% of Families Programme carers report that their, or their child's, well being has improved as a result of the short breaks provided by us.
When I first met J (now a single parent to 3 children, 11 yrs, 5 yrs and 2 yrs. 1 son with confirmed Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, awaiting assessment for youngest son) she was clearly overwhelmed. At this time she was in a relationship with the boys' father, her oldest son was going through assessment for Autism and his behaviour was proving very challenging. Differing parenting styles made it difficult for J to establish a routine with the kids and she struggled to get out and about with them. Her own mental health was suffering and she was starting to become isolated. After undertaking some 1:1 support with J she was introduced to the Families Programme and opted in to a couple of events. The first couple were hard for J, we could tell she was very anxious, she was constantly watching L and trying to pre-empt any 'meltdowns' which in itself can be exhausting. After discussion with J we decided that Granny should be invited along to the events too, she is supportive of J and the kids and an extra pair of hands always comes in handy. This happened for the first programme the family were involved in. The second programme saw J becoming more confident in bringing the kids along, the staff and volunteers were always on hand to support and she had connected with some of the other parents. This lead to her attending one of our Stay and Play events, with her 2 oldest children and no other adult support (J and her partner had recently split up.) Speaking to J at the end of the event she remarked that "it went much better than I thought it would being on my own with them, L actually played with other children and I wasn't hovering over him waiting for it to go bad" This was a huge boost for J, she got to spend some time with her daughter and L had a great time too. Fast forward to the latest Summer programme and our family day trip to Craigtoun Country Park. J came along, driving herself and the 3 kids almost an hour there and an hour back again, no other family support with her and spent the full day in the park, chatting with other parents, playing with the kids and chatting with Angus Carers staff. J left the park that day with a sense that she had actually achieved something she hadn't thought she would, she had initially aimed to last an hour at the park, longer than they had been able to spend at similar venues previously. Not every event is smooth sailing for J and her family, or for any family who attends, but having regular access to these supported events gives parents the time, and the tools, to build confidence in themselves and their ability to cope with challenges that may arise. J says she has noticed a reduction in her anxiety when planning activities for herself and the kids (her skin which would normally break out through stress has cleared up, her heart isn't racing at the thought of a trip to the shops and she feels motivated to lose weight - a goal she set herself but hadn't made any progress with) and she is even considering booking a caravan holiday with a friend and her two sons in the future.
Parent carers will have monthly opportunities to access and ‘test’ new social environments and engage in a short break, thus improving family relationships and social networks. Parents carers will have experienced a break away from their caring routine as outlined in the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016
Targets of 1 activity per month and monthly parent peer support groups were met. In total there were 23 parent peer support groups, held across 3 towns in Angus. Groups that were scheduled to fall during school summer holidays were cancelled, balancing with the increase in activities offered. During Spring and Autumn/Winter term school holidays it will have meant that 1 locality may have missed out on a support group, although they are welcome to travel to another locality and are also encouraged to access 1:1 support during this time if required. CDW and FPW both support carers on a 1:1 basis and are both present at activities if carers need to access support from them. The Families Programme developed from parents telling us that they didn't necessarily want a break away from their cared for person, but support to have quality time together. This is what we continue to offer with our activity programme alongside individual time out for carers to attend peer support sessions.
We have a family registered that have been with us now since almost the beginning in 2015/6. Mum (I), Dad (J), son (K - ASD diagnosis) and daughter (M) The family have been attending our events regularly and Mum also attends a peer support group in her local area, something she had initially not wanted to attend but now looks forward to them. As K has grown up his behaviours have become more challenging and I is accessing more from our service. I and J normally spend individual time with the kids as they find it really difficult to strike a compromise between the difference in age of K and M (almost 5 years) and very different attitudes and interests. K's rigidity and inflexible thinking exacerbate these issues to the point where 'family time' was becoming too troublesome. The Families Programme offers the family a safety net. K and M both have friends that they have made over the years with us and this provides interaction options for both children, and some time off from constantly trying to find the compromise between them for their parents. I and J have strong, supportive links with other parents in the programme and this gives them the opportunity to tap into that at events. I, reached out to a worker at an event to enquire about our Young Carers Service and as a result M is now supported through this, as well as attending the Families Programme events with her family. I longs for them to spend time doing things as a family and our events provide them with that opportunity, without the pressures they succumb to at home at times, trying to plan activities themselves, and the pressures of their caring role as a whole. The family attended our trip to Craigtoun Park which was chosen for it's range of activities, suitable for such varied ages. They travelled together on the coach transport provided and made their way around the park, together at times, separately at times. K loves playing golf and with the park offering a pitch and putt and a crazy golf, this was ideal. The family were able to play a round of each together and afterwards have some time apart, taking in other attractions that they each wanted to. With attractions not far apart and the park being circuited by Angus Carers Centre staff and volunteers, I and J were able to let the kids go off and play with their FP friends and actually enjoyed some time together too. One trip provided I with positive family time together, necessary time apart and some 'recharge' time for herself too.
Parents 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.
As well as providing short break opportunities through the delivery of 38 family events and activities providing meaningful, quality time out together we have also delivered 23 parent peer support groups across 3 localities (groups do not run during school holidays). These groups compliment the Families Programme ensuring that we can provide wrap around support for carers and children. Some parents may attend only the support groups, only the events or both. Either way they have increased access to peer support, regular opportunities for time away from their usual daily routine, alone or as a family at events, as well as contact with either the FPW or CDW which allows us to 'keep track' of family situations and time any support offers appropriately. They also provide a perfect platform to gather regular, constructive feedback on the programme as a whole, as well as individual events, ensuring we keep the needs and views of carers and children at the heart of everything we do.
L is a single parent to 2 boys, B - 13 yrs, rare heart condition, carries a defibrillator at all times and his little brother, N - 7 yrs undergoing assessment for Autism Spectrum Disorder. We first met L before her son B was due in for his heart operation, helping to support her through the daunting prospect of the surgery, being away from family just the two of them and then all of the changes to be made on B's discharge from hospital. L is with B wherever he goes, or at least close by and poised by the phone if he is out with friends etc but this is a huge worry for L, understandably so. Due to this, L had a very restricted social circle, friends had disappeared as she couldn't make or keep plans with them etc. As a teenager however, it is not cool to be spending all of your time with your Mum and B craved a little independence. The family were introduced to the Families Programme as a way of getting them some quality time out together where L could relax a little, knowing that all staff were aware of his condition and were on hand to support if necessary, and B could interact with peers without Mum 'hanging around'. N also had been struggling with challenging behaviour and was finding it difficult to socialise with his peers so the Families Programme provided him with opportunities to build his own social skills through play. L opted in to the support groups around this time too and was able to attend when B and N were in school. She connected with a couple of parents here that she now meets up with and chats to regularly. L was finding it difficult to find activities to do as a family where she could balance N's need for stimulation, excitement and high energy levels with B's need to have less rigorous activities, and given the age gap this was proving difficult. Our family day trips during school holidays allowed L to 'keep everyone happy'. She could spend time with N without having to worry about B who was under the watchful eye of our staff and volunteers, and vice versa, she could let N charge about with staff while she took some quiet time to check in with B. L has even attended 2 of our Parent only meals during the holidays, providing her with some much needed respite and 'adult time'. Attending these events has increased L's social circle and so her access to peer support. She is supported through the parent support groups as well as having access to FPW and CDW at events or by arranging a 1:1 appointment for more detailed support.