Time for Me – Young Carers across Oban, Lorn and Isles
A story by North Argyll Carers Centre
We delivered a school holiday respite activity programme for young carers aged 8-18 from across the Oban, Lorn and Isles area. Having time together has provided young carers with respite, peer support, school transition support, increased health and wellbeing and confidence in their caring roles.
What Time for Me – Young Carers across Oban, Lorn and Isles did
With input from our young carers we planned a programme of 9 day trips for young carers and 1 residential, to take place in the school holidays between April and the end of September 2021. Because of the 2nd lockdown our aspirations could not be realised so we adapted our plans. We delivered 1 online and 7 face to face holiday activities rather than the intended 9 day trips. Young carers took part in Sea Kayak adventures, a Hawk Walk/Falconry Experience, an intergenerational photography session, a cinema trip, bush craft sessions, a film-making activity and an interactive, intergenerational production put on for us by The Walking Theatre Company.
We could not deliver the planned residential visit due to Covid restrictions. Instead we provided virtual activities across the year during term time, that would deliver the benefits we wanted to achieve. We have maintained an increased number of sessions over the week and used online platforms to provide a broad variety of activities which we hoped would appeal to a wide audience (51 sessions in total). Young carers have accessed craft activities, virtual treasure hunts, a photography club, knitting bee, quizzes, games and online cookery sessions.
When restrictions lifted we resumed face to face work with young carers delivering craft and physical activity sessions outdoors or in venues that allowed ample space for social distancing and good ventilation (12 sessions in total). We were very fortunate that the High School in Oban allowed us to use their gazebo/marquee to meet with young carers for 1:1 sessions and to run our group activities.
We renewed our subscription to Zoom as we have found this the most user-friendly platform. Its use has enabled more young carers to take part in activities together, wherever they are based across the region, and we have retained a blended approach even now that in-person activities are possible. With infection rates rising we have seen young carers and our staff required to self-isolate, and Zoom has also proven invaluable in allowing us to continue to meet and avoid having to cancel sessions all together.
What North Argyll Carers Centre has learned
Dealing with the unexpected, developing new short breaks activities and finding new partnership working opportunities.
We have learnt that we are a resilient and creative team with complementary skills which have enabled us to support one another and the young carers we work with over the duration of the pandemic and to adapt to the rapidly evolving challenges that Covid has thrown at us. Though we were not able to deliver the project exactly as planned we have met our objectives and young carers have still had some amazing, life-affirming experiences and learnt new skills and means of self-expression which validate their experiences of their caring roles.
We have broadened our understanding of what constitutes 'respite' and with the young people's input, found new means to help them access time out for themselves and have fun. We have had a lot of laughter along the way, despite the grim circumstances. We little imagined before the pandemic that we would be scouring other people's fridges via video conference to create lunch recipe ideas from what they had lurking on the shelves, and what's more, how entertaining 'design my lunch' would turn out to be.
Through the online sessions we have also become more aware of the young people’s desire to work as a team as opposed to competing. Throughout the online activities, we observed of a lot of mutual support and encouragement if something didn’t go to plan. We also observed that encouraging young carers to host groups sometimes made them very creative. The young people spent time preparing and searching for resources and took a pride in delivering the sessions. Their self-esteem and sense of self-worth increased noticeably as a result.
We acknowledge that not all young carers are at the stage of feeling able to do this yet and we continue to encourage them in this. We also acknowledge that a person-centred approach always has to be at the heart of what we do and many young cares have not wanted to connect in virtually. It has been a joy to return to face to face group work with those who have felt safe enough to engage. Because we could not provide group transport for a proportion of the funding period, we have had to be more creative in identifying local resources that can offer short break opportunities for carers, rather than travelling to Glasgow and Edinburgh to visit the bigger attractions there.
Previously we had always felt that there was little available close to home and stayed with tried and tested favourites further afield. It has been good for us to have to review this and has led to some great partnership working with local providers with whom we have established relationships we can build on in the future. There is very much still a place for travelling to bigger attractions as well, as for many of our young carers these are opportunities they would not otherwise have because of their family circumstances and where they live, but we see a real benefit to nurturing these new partnership relationships as well.
How North Argyll Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
The funding has enabled us to continue to deliver our programme of Young Carer Time for Me activities and events which we know make a significant difference to the lives of young carers living in remote and rural areas across North Argyll. The funding makes it possible for us to give them a short break from caring and provide opportunities for peer support, learning new skills, trying activities they would not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in and, perhaps most importantly, the time to enjoy being children. We have strengthened existing partnerships and developed new links with local activity providers as a result of this funding and our need to find ways to meet our project objectives. This is a real positive and has the potential to benefit young and adult carers beyond the project itself. We hope that through these new connections within the local community, awareness of what it means to be a young carer may lead to identification of, and referrals for, young carers and their families who are not yet known to us.
80% of young carers attending respite activities will feel improved wellbeing
Though we were not able to deliver our planned residential visit we feel we were still able fully to achieve our project outcome, albeit by different means. We provided a wide and varied range of short break activities online and face to face and increased the frequency of sessions across the week in order to try find options which would appeal to as many young carers as possible. We listened to what they told us they needed in order to keep well and planned activities based on their feedback. We observed improvements in their wellbeing, and their own feedback confirmed this was the case.
Lockdown proved difficult for our Young Carers. Opportunities for traditional forms of respite or face to face peer support were at best highly limited and at worst non-existent. This had a very significant impact on our young people’s wellbeing. Carer X is in year P7 in one of the Primary Schools in the area. In addition to helping to care for her younger sibling, who has autism, X has her own struggles as she has additional support needs of her own. X doesn’t have a large circle of friends, often preferring to keep herself to herself or socialize only within a small, trusted group of people. She was invited to take part in the in the bush craft activity delivered by Ardroy Outdoor Education Centre staff, and after some significant encouragement, participated with a reluctance. Once activities started however, staff observed that her worries quickly disappeared. She actively participated in all fun, mixed with older young carers and excelled in her knowledge about the wilderness, which she shared with the entire group. She posed for the photos and at the end of the session admitted that she was proud of her own achievements, advising that even on the morning of the activity she had almost declined to attend due to anxiety. It was wonderful to see this transformation in her and the evident boost to her confidence and sense of self-worth that finding the courage to take part had given her.
100% of young carers will have had the opportunity to access out of school respite activity programme and will have opportunity to have a life outside caring.
We were able to deliver 8 out of the planned 9 respite activity sessions during the school holidays; 1 online and 7 face to face. These activities were offered to all young carers we support. Though a number of young carers and their families felt they were not ready to engage in face to face group activities due to continuing anxiety about Covid and the risk of infection, many of the young people we support did opt to take part indicated that they were very grateful for the chance to meet up in person again. We ran online group activities alongside the face to face ones which ensured that there remained an option for everyone to access time out for themselves. We feel we fully met our stated outcome. Young carers tell us they have valued having time out together to have fun, play games, share stories and be children first and foremost, away from the pressures of their caring roles, and this has boosted their morale and enabled them to relax, rest and recharge their batteries.
Carer A lives in a rural area and attends a small school. She is very sociable and enjoys going to school, learning, making friends and interacting with others. She has a dual caring role, looking after her younger sibling with autism, and mum who has physical disability. The everyday routine of going to school has always been a very positive thing for this young person so when remote learning restarted, it almost instantly began to have an impact on her life. During 1:1 support sessions it became apparent that she felt quite lonely and without anything to look forward to. She was encouraged to attended Monday afterschool club on Zoom and staff soon observed that she settled in to this really well. She always had a lot of things she wanted to talk to the group about. She would often talk about what she had been cooking and talk us through the recipe, which would then trigger chats about different family traditions etc. The young carer enjoys conversation, has a lot of interests and became confident, over the year, in presenting her creative ideas, drawings and crafts to the group. We had a lot of conversations regarding anxiety and worries about going to high school, both from a caring point of view and in terms of anxiety about facing something new. Carer A also joined the school transition group and enjoyed meeting other young carers, who were already at high school. She asked many questions about life at high school and her anxiety was lessened by taking part. Our team feels that she has grown significantly in confidence throughout the course of the year, leading sessions. Taking part reduced her isolation and gave her a break from caring. She tells us she now doesn’t feel alone and has said of the Young Carers Service: “I can always say here how I feel without being judged” “I feel good that some of my YC friends are going to high school in the same time, I may even be in the same class as they are”