VAS Better Breaks Shetland
A story by Voluntary Action Shetland
Our Better Breaks project is part of our Carer Support Service where we aim to deliver 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.
What VAS Better Breaks Shetland did
Voluntary Action Shetland Carers offered various activity sessions to parent carers, families who had children with additional support needs, and their siblings, throughout Shetland. These groups went to plan, except for a short period of staff absence, and Covid-19 lockdown. These families were identified from our existing links and from partnership working with the local authority and other local charities.
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.
Lego sessions were offered to families, all their children could take part, and improve their social skills as well as building sibling and peer relationships.
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. The siblings had their own group where they could share experiences, have a break from their caring role and gain peer support from children in similar circumstances.
Parents were offered support through a group, or individually. This evolved into a closed/private Carers Discussion online forum which meant more people could be supported in their caring role.
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.
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
We have learned that a carer's progress is not linear, and the project needs to be adaptable to accommodate their needs at the time. This has been seen in the Sibling Sessions and in the Parent Group where attendance has varied. As a support service, you need to be able to adapt to how a person communicates with you, and this might be that you don't meet face to face but you use email, texts or the online closed/private discussion group.
Partnership working allowed us to make sure that the services that we were offering provided the parent carers with the opportunity of a break e.g. with the sibling sessions being delivered at the same time as Ability Shetland's sessions. It also allowed us the opportunity to engage with new carers through other services. An example of this is our very close links with the local high school additional support needs department which has allowed us to boost the numbers for our Friday Group as well as our Lego Sessions.
This provides parent carers with an opportunity for a break, as well as being signposted to our other services. The Friday Group in particular - very close links now with AHS and teachers to boost the Friday Group numbers helps support young people who are vulnerable in other groups while giving them the independence of coming to the group themselves.
Unexpected challenges of a staff member being off ill for 6 weeks. This made a block of Lego sessions unable to go ahead as the other staff at Voluntary Action Shetland were not trained in Lego Therapy. The staff member who is trained has been encouraged to share their knowledge with other staff so that this has less chance of happening in the future. Another staff member was able to stand in for Friday Group as there was no prior knowledge needed, however, it would have been good for more of the group to know this other staff member and this is something that we will work towards in the future.
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. The funding has allowed us to give feedback and recommendations to mainstream facilities e.g. the Parent Group meeting with the dental professional. This has undoubtedly strengthened their services and has benefited families who go on to use these services in the future. We have been able to offer a volunteering placement for a young person at our Friday Group which will allow 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.
Friday Group will build good peer relationships and self confidence in a mainstream environment. The teenagers will get the opportunity to manage different social situations and learn “the rules” for this. Lego Group will give skills that can help with transitions and daily interactions.
Friday Group, the target, to have 6 participants registered & 12 sessions. Delivered, 10 sessions. 12 planned, 2 cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdown. Participants, 6 participants registered, with 70% attending the sessions in 2020. This increase of participants was due to close partnership working with the local high school Additional Support Needs department who invited us to come and speak to the young people who would be eligible and helped them make the transition from school to the group. We gave 8 carers the opportunity for a break over these sessions. Lego Group, target, 6 participants for each block of 6 weeks - 24 sessions, delivered, 8 participants for each block - 25 sessions planned - 18 completed - 6 sessions cancelled due to trained staff illness and 3 sessions cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdown.We varied the block lengths to allow more participants to attend, and to allow everyone on our waiting list to take part. This worked very well and had good feedback throughout.
The Gregor family have 6 children, 4 girls and 2 boys. They are a very close family but the parents both have conditions which sometimes impact on their ability to be able to do activities with the children. 4 of the children receive extra help at school, while the other two are mainstream. They are all part of small nurture groups set up by their school. The parents contacted |Voluntary Action Shetland Carers about the Lego Group and asked if their children could all take part. Although two of the children were younger than our usual age, it was felt that we should go ahead as it would help to foster increased family connections and positive interactions within their family group. The added bonus was that the parents would get 1.5 hours respite from each session which they used to spend time together and do their weekly shop. Two other young people from our waiting list also came along to the group and were from the same school. This allowed the children to interact with each other in a supported environment and build links while learning new skills that could help in their relationships at school and home. The children all loved the sessions, with their favorite activity being the free play Lego in the second half of the session. This allowed them to play with their friends and siblings in a less structured way that at the start of the session. The parents found that the children were more tolerant of each other at home, and would use more negotiating skills when playing. This allowed mum and dad the opportunity to give the children more space when they were playing, without having to supervise them as much as before. School also noticed a difference in the relationships the children had with others, and felt they were more supportive of each other.
As part of all of the sessions mentioned in the other outcomes, we would expect that wellbeing would be improved from attending these.
This has been monitored in an age and stage appropriate way for all of the sessions that have occurred. By attending the sessions, the participants have an opportunity to interact with other people, making and strengthening existing links as well as increasing and strengthening their support networks. The participants have continued to gain support and strengthen their relationships with staff which in turn allows them to share their experiences more openly when needed. This also allows the staff to offer appropriate support to the participant or family.
See other case studies, which show increased wellbeing for young people and their families.
Family Days- opportunities given for families with children with additional support needs to feel comfortable to attend activities in mainstream environments. Children with additional support needs to feel comfortable in mainstream leisure facilities. Sibling Sessions will build up sustainable support for crisis time.
Target: 22 sessions for siblings and/or siblings and families, delivered, 19 sibling sessions planned. 17 delivered - 1 cancelled due to extreme weather, 1 cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdown. 3 Family Days planned - 2 delivered - 1 cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdown. We worked in partnership with Ability Shetland to ensure our holiday sessions would complement theirs, allowing the carers to have a break. The monthly Sibling Sessions are at the same time as Ability Shetland's group, again to allow the carers to have a break. We increased the registration for Sibling Sessions to 15, with 70% attending the majority of the sessions in 2020. This number does vary due to the complexities of family life with siblings with additional support needs, plus other activities that are offered at the same time.
Due to the increasing number of children attending sibling sessions, it has become clear to staff that there is an age divide between the younger children and the older ones. Fortunately, the space we have available lends itself to slightly separated groups within the same building. On one occasion, the older children wanted to create a puppet show for the younger children. Staff were very happy to facilitate this to happen, and explained to the younger children why they had to play a different game/do a different activity during this creating time. The older children created and practiced 'Act One' before declaring it as ready to watch before snack time! The younger children were a brilliant audience for the show, and watched intently. After snack time together, the older children again wanted time to create and practice 'Act Two'. The younger children understood this and were happy to play with different things for this short time. Before too long, the younger children were invited to watch 'Act Two', clapping enthusiastically when it was finished and asking questions during the impromptu 'Question and Answer' session at the end! Overall, this was one of the best sessions of the year. Staff felt that the older group really came together during this play creation, and the younger children loved having something to watch. One of the older children said it was their favorite session, and drew it for staff.
We will continue to offer sessions for parents. These sessions will be used to help build up resilience and help with peer support.
Target: 12 parent sessions, delivered 12 sessions planned - low numbers have attended 10 sessions, with 2 sessions cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdown. We have found that these parents use the sessions when they are needing support due to things happening in their life at the time. One parent in particular has found the sessions being there a reassurance that she can use them for peer and staff support if needed. Staff have offered individual support to parents as needed, and have been able to signpost to other groups and projects if appropriate. Staff have also worked with local facility providers to feedback from parents, what they think would be helpful to allow their family to attend events or appointments. This has been well received although there is still work to be done in this area. Parents have also been invited to use an online closed/private Carers Discussion forum for peer support. This makes support more accessible for a wider range of parents in an island area.
A dental professional made contact with Voluntary Action Shetland Carers to gain information to allow them to make their service more accessible to families with additional support needs. The dental professional was invited to come to the Parent Session to speak directly with parents. This session was very well received, and it was appreciated by all as this was an area that caused difficulty and upset for their children. Notes were taken by staff to email to other parents who couldn't attend that day. The dental professional offered good advice to the parents but also offered reassurances that she would take their views back to their team and see what else could be put in place to allow families feel more comfortable attending appointments etc. One parent told staff that they were able to follow the dental professionals guidelines and were able to speak to them directly when they were having difficulty arranging a suitable appointment. This empowered the parent to gain a suitable appointment for their child, along with arranging pre-treatment acclimatization visits which enabled the child to feel more comfortable in the dental office environment.