VAS - Better Breaks - Shetland
A story by Voluntary Action Shetland
Our Better Breaks project is part of our Carer Support Service delivering a shortbreak service in Shetland to both children and young people with disabilities and their carers. This is done through a range of targeted activities and groups which all aim to give time out.
What VAS - Better Breaks - Shetland did
VAS Carers offered a range of groups, sessions and activities to young people with siblings with additional needs, parent carers, families and young people with additional needs. It is without doubt that these groups have positively impacted on the mental health of the participants and their families, and
allowed them to continue in their caring role.
Siblings came together regularly to have fun, share their experiences, have a break from their caring role and gain peer support from other young people in similar circumstances. These siblings were given the opportunity to go to the cinema, make a soft toy, visit the local RNLI lifeboat, visit beaches, explore/learn about local history, make Christmas decorations and do a fact finding mission. Some of these sessions took place during the school holidays, others once a month.
Teenagers who were vulnerable in other groups took part in a fortnightly group to improve their access to a mainstream environment, as well as boost their confidence in these settings and increasing their independence.
Family days were offered to families who would benefit from it, and allowed their children to all play together without being judged by other families in a mainstream environment.
Parent carers were given a break from their caring role when their children attended any of these groups, and were able to gain peer support and build support networks by speaking to other parent carers at the groups. Parent carers were given the opportunity to take part in two relaxing Himalayan Sound Therapy sessions, coffee and cake at a local cafe and a fish and chips lunch.
Young people with additional needs and their siblings were able to take part in Lego Group, which was offered in regular blocks of sessions. This helped them to work on turn taking, communication and sharing in a fun way. These skills could then be transferred to other situations.
All of these groups have been successful, especially on an individual level, for those involved. As with any groups, we have seen lower numbers attending at certain times, and then the groups grow again when circumstances change or new families join.
What Voluntary Action Shetland has learned
One of the biggest things we have learned this year is that we have had to be flexible in our approach in our groups. Some people have taken a long time to feel comfortable mixing in a group again after the pandemic. Others have more worries, anxieties and insecurities than they did before. This has meant that we have often made slight changes to the running of each group as they are happening, to accommodate all the participants. This has particularly happened with Lego Group which was restarted this year, and has been noted above. Because of this, we feel that we are being supportive and inclusive of all who wish to attend, and hope that the little changes we can make, make a big difference to those who come along.
The cost of living has been a big challenge for the families we work with - and continues to be. For some, our groups are the only groups that they are able to access, and are seen as a 'treat'. There is no spare money in households for nice things or fun activities. With this in mind, we have tried to ensure that we are offering a range of activities that are fun, worthwhile and give the participant a break from their caring role. We always offer snack on our sessions (except Family Days) and this is gratefully received.
We have been able to explore some partnership working in terms of our Friday Group venue. The young people who attend the group thought they would like to have a break from the usual arts centre cafe and games every now and again, and would like to make waffles or do some cooking instead. We have a few venues that are now possible for us to use. These venues mean the young people get used to another building and come in contact with different people e.g. youth work staff. This could mean that they feel confident to go to them for help with something or even attend one of their youth clubs.
How Voluntary Action Shetland has benefitted from the funding
This funding has helped to strengthened existing links between the voluntary sector and ASN education which has become a partnership to allow the young people who need the group to attend the Friday Group. The ASN Outreach teacher was also involved in referring young people to the group. This has allowed our service to offer support to new families who we might not have had contact with otherwise. This has also been evident in our partnership working with the local youth services staff to enable an occasional venue for Friday Group. The funding has allowed us to give feedback and recommendations to mainstream facilities e.g. the Family Sessions at the local leisure centre, and Friday Group at the local arts centre. This has undoubtedly strengthened their services and has benefited families who go on to use these services in the future. This is something that we do on every session but staff in these organisations often change so it is still important that we do this. We have been able to continue a volunteering placement for an adult at our Sibling Group sessions. This has allowed them good and useful experience to use on their CV for further employment and educational opportunities. Through delivering our sessions, staff are increasing their knowledge of each family’s own situation and needs as well as strengthening their own individual relationship with the family. As well as making us more able to adapt to any emerging needs, this increased knowledge and strengthened relationship enhances the reputation of VAS Carers Support Service reputation with families. Our service is a vital lifeline for a lot of the families we work with, and it has never been more needed.
Lego Group - participation in the sessions which will grow skills that will be transferable in other areas of their life. Friday Group will allow young people who are vulnerable in other groups to come together fortnightly in a relaxed youth-club style session in the local arts centre.
Lego Group - target - 24 sessions. Delivered 24 sessions. These sessions were adapted to allow young people to become used to being in a group setting again as the group had paused over the pandemic. This involved more free play to begin with, moving towards and achieving 'normal' Lego Group work as the sessions progressed. Friday group - target - 19 sessions. Delivered - 16 sessions. These sessions were very valued by the participants, but some sessions were unable to take place as there were various unexpected public holidays e.g. Queen's Jubilee etc. The young people were offered a couple of extra sessions through the summer holidays to make the number up but they felt it was something they just wanted to do in term time.
Judith has a sister with an additional need that makes it hard for them to play together. Judith came along to Lego Group for the first time, on her own, and met other children who were in a similar situation to her. For the first session, Judith was given the role of Engineer which meant she had to read out the instructions to the other two children in the group. Judith concentrated really hard to give the right instructions, finding ways to describe the blocks so that the others would understand and they would be able to work together to put the right block in the right place. Judith and the rest of her group were delighted that they were able to build the small set together and proudly posed for a photograph with their completed model. Other the coming weeks, Judith was given the opportunity to work in the other roles, always trying her best to achieve the end result with her group. Judith and the rest of the group practiced the skills they had learnt through each session when they played with a big box of mixed Lego in the second half of each session. Judith was always willing to help others to find pieces for their build. Her confidence grew as she felt more comfortable within the group and she was able to ask others for help over the sessions. Judith's parents shared that Judith really enjoyed the group, in particular being able to play with Lego uninterrupted and without the worry that her creation would be broken.
Sibling Group will build up sustainable support networks and give a break from their caring role. Family Days create opportunities for families with children with additional needs to feel comfortable to attend activities together. Parents can attend Parent Group to do a time out activity.
Sibling Group/Family Days - target - 16 sessions. Delivered - 16 sessions. Sibling Group sessions were offered on the last Saturday of the month, and more were offered in the school holidays. These were well attended and the young people had a brilliant time! Favourite activities from this year were definitely beach adventures and ice cream (in all weathers!). Extra sessions were added to ensure we hit the target of 16 as some sessions had to be cancelled due to staff illness. Family Days were two bouncy castle sessions in the local leisure centre. These were great fun and allowed families to mix with each other during the school holidays. Parent Group - target - 4 sessions. Delivered - 4 sessions. These sessions offered a time out activity to parent carers, allowing them a chance to make links with others who are facing similar situations. This will help to strengthen their support networks. Staff attended to lead the activities and signpost to other organisations as needed.
One parent came along to our coffee and cake Parent Group session in a local cafe. They had booked to come to the group for the first time with friends but at the last minute they were not able to attend. This parent decided to come along anyway and shared that they were very glad they did! Although they knew that everyone who attended would be nice, they were so happy to feel accepted into the group and everyone was so welcoming. The parent shared some of their own experiences of having a child with an additional need and became emotional with the support and understanding they received from the other parents in the group. "It feels like you are battling this on your own and no one else is going through the same thing. They are, and it feels so good to know that." The parent has attended the other Parent Group sessions and enjoyed the activities as much as feeling like she is not being judged as people understand what it is like to have a child with additional needs.
Parent Group - target - 4 sessions. Delivered - 4 sessions. As detailed in Outcome 2 above. Family Days - Delivered - 2 sessions. As detailed in Outcome 2 above.
Please see the results for Parent Group and Family Days in Outcome 2 above.
A parent carer who has brought their children along to other Family Day sessions encouraged another parent carer to book to attend with his family. The new parent carer shared with the worker at the time of booking that they had been unsure if the session would have been accessible for them as their child had not received a formal diagnosis. They were reassured by the worker that it was definitely accessible to them! The new parent carer was able to chat to other parent carers at the Family Day session, and the children got on very well with the others there - plenty of bouncing and running took place! The new parent carer has since attended a Parent Group that they found very helpful. One of the siblings of the child with additional needs now attends Sibling Group.
On the project we are measuring the wellbeing scores for people over a period of time. Success is when these scores are improving over a period of time. We will also look at some of these scores as a family.
Families were supported as a group and/or individually as needed. Our service has been a point of contact for information, and has helped in many situations. Our groups have helped young people, siblings and parents to reconnect with each other, when links were lost over the pandemic. This, without a doubt, has improved the wellbeing of all involved.
Several parents have approached our service to gain information about the rights of a child and family in terms of their additional support at school. This has ranged from how to make sure the child with additional needs is supported in school, to when is an exclusion from school an unlawful one. We have been able to source information about these issues from various national organisations. This has included giving numbers for helplines, links to webchats to speak to advisors and support to access these things. We have signposted to local organisations e.g. CAB and Advocacy. This information has then been made available to other families through email and our facebook page.