Time for Me - Young Carers
A story by North Argyll Carers Centre
Through our holiday activity programme, young carers across North Argyll have had fun times away from their caring roles, enjoying just being children. They have been able to establish and consolidate friendships and feel less isolated, with improved wellbeing, more confidence and greater resilience.
What Time for Me - Young Carers did
Our project provided North Argyll's young carers aged 8 to 18 with 9-day trips, creative activities and a residential stay. These took place during the school holidays between October 2021 and the end of the summer 2022. Young carers visited Blair Drummund Safari Park, Inflatanation, Ice Factor, Glasgow Science Centre, and Highland Wildlife Park. They went to the cinema, karting and bowling in Glasgow, tubing in Glencoe, & took part in intergenerational activities with older carers, including creating a herb garden which has provided organic herbs to go on their homemade pizzas.
We prioritised places for young carers who were newly registered with us or who had not taken part in activities before. The residential was open to all our young carers and we had a nice mix of ages, with the older ones enjoying feeling like ‘old hands’ having been on residentials before and looking out for the younger ones. It was a lovely atmosphere.
The project’s main aims are to reduce social isolation, build resilience and give young carers time out for themselves, so that they can enjoy their childhood and experience the freedoms that non-carer children take for granted. The benefits of this are felt by the whole family. Because our young people choose the activities, we know they reflect what they are interested in and want to do. Decisions are reached democratically, and we try to balance physically demanding activities with more creative and reflective sessions, so that all our young carers will find something to suit them, whatever their interest and capabilities.
Young carers’ confidence was boosted by trying new things and they were excited to go home and tell their families about what they had done. The project went as planned, and achieved what we intended Feedback from young carer says so much more than a report can:
“This has been the best day ever!” “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do the tubing because I was so scared. I really liked it though and would go even higher next time” “Can you get a video of me going down from the top? I want to show my mum” “It was good to get a trip away and have some time to myself” “I wish we were staying another night"
What North Argyll Carers Centre has learned
The project brings us into contact with new partner organisations whose expertise can provide young carers with experiences they will remember for a lifetime. For example, we were really impressed by the team from Ardroy when we worked with them the previous year on an activity day in Oban. With covid restrictions lifted we were excited to be able to take a group for a full residential experience at the Outdoor Education Centre and work with them again.
We were not disappointed and found the team to be 'on our wavelength' with really experienced youth workers who had a genuine awareness of the challenges our young people may be facing and guided them to achieve things they did not believe themselves capable of. We are looking forward to returning next year.
We had to review our travel plans and look carefully at the budget for travel during the course of the year. The school minibus we had hired in previous years was not available to us due to covid measures. As a result, we had to find another provider and the cost was somewhat higher than we had originally budgeted for. The outcome was a good one however, as we found a local hire company who we had not been aware of before, and we have developed a very good relationship with them. Availability of their buses is easier as we can use them outside the school holiday period, and it is good to be using the funding to support a local business with money benefiting the local economy.
Our HSCP commission us to carry out Adult Carer Support Plans and Young Carer Statements, and to provide information and advice on carer rights. Part of our contract monitoring is looking at valued added. The fact that we bring in a significant amount of non-statutory funding through our application to Creative Breaks, which allows us to carry out preventative support and short breaks for carers, is valued by commissioners and carer leads. They recognise the impact these activities have and the fact that they potentially save them money by preventing carers reaching crisis point.
This year the HSCP agreed to support us with the cost of deposits to secure next year's residentials, which needed to be paid before the new funding period began. It is heartening that they are recognising the importance of preventative work and have exercised their statutory powers to support carers to access preventative respite rather than just their duty to assist those at crisis point. It has opened up discussion of preventative support and is encouraging more creative thinking within the HSCP about what respite means and about carer eligibility.
How North Argyll Carers Centre has benefitted from the funding
As described above, the funding has supported us to create links with other activity providers and with local businesses. These new relationships are important for us as they allow us to increase the range of activities we can offer and to deliver a community benefit in terms of supporting local businesses. There is also the factor that any new contacts we make allow us to raise awareness about unpaid carers and open up conversation about North Argyll Carers Centre and what we do. We are aiming to get Carer Positive workplace accreditation and then to work with local businesses to help them do the same. Any new links we make can give us a pathway in to achieving this. Receiving funding from Shared Care Scotland's the Creative Breaks fund implies recognition by a respected national carer organisation of the value of the work we do and the projects we run, and this enhances our reputation. In turn, the work we do because we have the funding, which is visible within our community, ensures that we are known for making a valued contribution and achieving positive outcomes for unpaid carers. The funding gives us the capacity to deliver on our charitable aims and inspires us to think of new and creative ways to provide carers and those they care for with a better quality of life. It allows us to go beyond the work we do as a commissioned service for the HSCP and gives us time to work with those we support, to identify how to deliver tailored preventative respite activities that meet their needs, and it encourages us to review and evaluate our practice regularly, so we don't become complacent.
Through fun activities, a break from routines and time out from their caring roles, young carers will be able to recharge, enjoy being children, get support from peers and the Young Carer Team staff and creative positive and lasting memories, all of which will contribute to improved wellbeing.
Though numbers participating were lower than we had estimated, we achieved this outcome. We were aiming to have 80% of the young people who participated reporting they had enjoyed the activities they took part in. The feedback was that almost all took something positive away from their experiences and created happy memories. They went home and shared these with their families and their improved mood and greater resilience benefitted the people they cared for and the wider family. Only 3 young carers reported they had not enjoyed taking part, and for one of those, the feedback from the young person's mum was that despite what they said in feedback, they had not stopped talking about the activity afterwards and it was clear they had really enjoyed it. Two young carers found being away from family on the residential very challenging and they advised that the activities did not suit them. We can learn from this and make sure we are totally clear about what is involved.
Caring roles for some young people can be demanding physically as well as mentally. Activities are a great distraction and opportunity to play, have fun and be carefree. Young Carer Y lives in a quite isolated and remote area, some distance from Oban, and with limited public transport links. This means, she can’t easily meet a friend and go for a walk, shopping or to the cinema for example. Young Carer Y came to our creative activity in the October half term holiday. She appeared a bit tired, and her mood and energy were noticeably low, but she sat down ready to take part in the crafts. She told staff very vaguely that she was tired as her brother who has autism had been “loud” the night before. As soon as we started the activities, she joined in and was so enthusiastic about them. It was particularly refreshing to watch her participation in team games and how she was encouraging and guiding her team to win. She bonded with her team and after that, Young Carer Y sat with those particular girls to do another activity. The girls were talking about their caring roles, and she explained that she cared for her brother who has autism. The conversation was flowing and the young carers in the small group were supporting each other and sharing stories. After the event, dad and brother came to collect her, and dad noted that she appeared refreshed and happy. It was lovely to see her return to her family, take her brother’s hand and walk with him, talking to him gently and telling him about the activity. It was an important moment for staff to see so much compassion amongst the young people and to observe the positive change in Young Carer Y’s demeanour between the start and end of the activity.
Young carers will have been supported to access time out from their caring role, socialising with peers, enjoying new experiences and getting a break from their routines.
Our aim was to offer every young carer registered with us the opportunity to take part in at least one activity during the year, and for at least 50% to take up that offer. We achieved our aim. We had 92 attendances at activities and events and 39 individual young carers took part, some joining us for multiple activities. This represented approximately 50% of the number of young carers registered with us over the period. We would have liked to see higher numbers participating, but some hesitancy about covid remained for at least the first part of the year, and we had quite a high last-moment drop-out rate. In many cases this was an inevitable part of being a young carer, but nonetheless we will look to learn from this. We saw the overwhelmingly positive feedback and the fact that some carers were keen to attend multiple activities as evidence that on the whole we are getting it right, however.
Young Carer Z, who looks after mum and sister, took part in the residential to Ardroy Outdoor Centre. Young Carer Z has health issues herself. We knew she was torn because she wanted to join in but at the same time, was really apprehensive about going. We talked with her and eventually, with reassurance and encouragement, she made the decision to take part. Staff discussed the implications of her condition with the instructors and asked about some flexibility with levels of difficulty. The instructors were very experienced in working with children with different abilities and health conditions and very empathic and sensitive. Young Carer Z put her heart into the activity and received a lot of encouragement and support from peers, instructors and staff. The breakthrough came when she, having very little confidence in herself, managed to complete three quarters of the Splosh gorge walking activity. This activity was a part of the programme that focused on Healthy Mind and Body with the emphasis on health, wellbeing, mood and motivation. The day and entails walking in a rocky stream up a hill to the top, then jumping down into a large pool and sliding down on the smooth rocks, all while wearing a wetsuit. For many young people all aspects of this can be very challenging. Despite her trepidation, Young Carer Z took her courage in both hands and had a go. She was so pleased with herself and felt such a sense of achievement. In her own words “I can’t believe I have done it!” She was praised for her bravery and we could see how happy she was. In the evening we played games and chatted. Young Carer Z opened up and talked to staff and her friend about how difficult it can be to be a carer in her situation, and said that it felt great to be “away from it all”. Although her relationships with mum and sister are really strong and positive, she appreciated not having any responsibilities while she was away. Instructors and staff sat down one evening and held a group chat about importance of self-care and taking a break without feeling guilty, which was good for our young people to hear and share in. Travelling back from the residential was quiet as the young people were very tired, but it was a contented quiet. After our return, parents said to staff that their children had really benefitted: “[Young Carer Z] spoke highly of the trip” and mum could see the difference it had made for her and felt that “she really needed it” Mum was so pleased to know how fully she had taken part.
Through fun activities, a break from routines and time out from their caring roles, young carers will be able to recharge, enjoy being children, get support from peers and the Young Carer Team staff and creative positive and lasting memories, all of which will all help them sustain their caring role
We aimed to have 80% of those participating tell us that they felt they had benefitted from taking part. As mentioned above, 92% reported enjoying the activities and said they felt they had had a chance to relax, unwind and recharge their batteries. Feedback from them and from their parents confirmed that this had helped them in their caring roles. Cared-for parents and siblings saw the difference in demeanour of the young carers when they returned home. In only 2 cases did we see the activity fail to have the desired effect. For those 2 young carers, participation increased, rather than reduced their anxiety. We will look at how we can better prepare young carers for the challenge of being away from home, and make sure they know they can be heard if they have reservations beforehand. We want to be certain that we are offering the right break at the right time for all our carers.
The day trips and holiday activities we deliver provide a chance for our young carers to mix more widely than in the after-school clubs we run. Our Halloween trip to the Safari Park trip brought together young carers from the 3 different after school groups, meaning carers of all ages and from across North Argyll were provided with a chance to meet and make new friendships. Young Carer X, who had only registered with us quite recently before the visit, decided that despite a quite intensive caring role, she would come along. She was delighted as she has never been there before. A few of the other young carers were intrigued and asked her why. Young Carer X was, at first, a little uncomfortable about answering, but it was clear the enquiry intended no malice. It turned into a very productive discussion, about being a young carer, how caring roles can differ, how differently young people get affected and the challenges and barriers young carers can face in their lives. We saw great empathy demonstrated within the group, and it was helpful for all to gain a better understanding of one another and to take support from others’ thoughtful contributions. Young Carer X and the rest of the group then had a wonderful Halloween experience, petting animals, picking pumpkins, playing in the play park and meeting the 2-day old Rhino calf. The whole group bonded, and staff observed the young people swapping Snap Chats to follow each other on social media. The parent of Young Carer X told staff next day that Young Carer X “had a great time” and “loved meeting new friends”