Voluntary Action Shetland (VAS) - Better Breaks Project
A story by Voluntary Action Shetland - Shetland Carers
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 Voluntary Action Shetland (VAS) - Better Breaks Project did
VAS Carers offered a range of groups, sessions and activities to young people with siblings with additional support needs, parent carers, families and young people with additional needs. These included face to face sessions when covid 19 restrictions allowed, moving to virtual sessions when needed.
For some families, these sessions were the only thing they could attend other than school. This provided opportunities to build relationships with others in similar situations as well as time out activities and respite. These sessions allowed young people to reconnect with each other, and relearn how to be in a group again. New friendships were built and existing ones were strengthened.
As a service, we were able to restart some face to face sessions which had been stopped through lockdown. This gave participants a real boost and something to look forward to. It is without doubt that these groups, either virtual or face to face, have positively impacted on the mental health of the participants and their families, and allowed them to continue in their caring role.
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. 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. 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 - Shetland Carers 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, phonecalls or zoom calls. This has been particularly evident during the pandemic. Although our virtual sessions have been quite popular, the numbers attending are far higher for face to face sessions. Families have needed this support to continue their caring role.
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 a similar 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 ASN department which has allowed us to boost the numbers for our Friday Group since it restarted. This provides parent carers with an opportunity for a break, as well as being signposted to our other services. The Friday Group in particular helps support young people who are vulnerable in other groups while giving them the independence of coming to the group themselves.
The Covid 19 pandemic threw up so many challenges for our service, but we were able to adapt each session to ensure we were within guidelines and restrictions. This involved being creative with activity choice, venue and numbers of participants allowed to attend. For Sibling Sessions, the group turned up in any weather, ready to do an activity - it didn't really matter what the activity was, just that they were getting to do something fun! Without the groups we were able to run, families would have been even less supported in their caring role and there would have been little chance for any respite.
How Voluntary Action Shetland - Shetland Carers 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 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. We have been able to offer a volunteering placement for an adult at our Sibling Sessions 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. Our service is a vital lifeline for a lot of the families we work with, and it has never been more needed. We have been in the lucky position of being able to change our sessions fairly easily to ensure we were always working within government Covid restrictions. This has meant that there has been an increased trust in the service and an increase in the need for support through word of mouth.
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.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were unable to restart Lego group. We were unable to find a suitable venue and the guidance from the government around unregulated groups such as this was unclear, meaning we did err on the side of caution and not do the groups. Friday Group was able to restart face to face once restrictions allowed. 5 sessions were delivered, and numbers at this group have been increasing. The young people have been able to relearn social skills that were lost over the time of the pandemic, and have increased their independence and confidence.
Sasha is 17 and enjoyed coming to Friday Group before lockdown. She was delighted that it was able to restart! Although Sasha was able to travel independently to the group again, it became clear that her social skills and confidence had decreased slightly. The staff member gently supported Sasha to ask for her own drink and snack at the cafe counter. She wore a mask in line with government guidance but this meant that her voice wasn't easily heard by the cafe worker. With perseverance and encouragement, Sasha was successfully able to ask for her own order. Sasha's confidence quickly grew, and she was able to support other members of the group to order their own snacks over the coming weeks. It has taken everyone in the group time to get used to being in a group in a public place again but it is great to see and celebrate their small (and big!) successes.
Family days will create opportunities for families with children with additional support needs to feel comfortable to attend activities as other parents are not judging them on the behaviour of their children. The sibling sessions will build up sustainable support networks.
Target - 7 monthly sibling sessions plus 7 sibling or family sessions in school holidays = 14 sessions in total Delivered - 16 sessions in total Family Day - we were able to offer two sessions to families. One was a virtual Magic Show which 9 families attended (total 37 people). One was our first 'in person' family event since 2020! 7 families (total 27 people) came along to the bouncy castles at our local leisure centre. Sibling Sessions - we were able to offer 10 face to face sessions and 4 virtual sessions. We had 20 young people registered with the service. Spaces on each session were booked up very quickly. This shows how highly valued this group is and how much it is needed in our community.
The Parkes family live in a rural island location. Due to the pandemic and family health issues, the family have been very isolated. The virtual sibling and family day sessions that our service have offered have allowed them to connect with new young people, and reconnect with friends without the added stress of travel and worry of Covid. One particular success was the virtual Magic Show - the whole family were able to watch the show, from the comfort of their own home and thoroughly enjoyed it! The younger child has never been to a theatre due to their additional needs and covid restrictions. This show allowed them to watch something completely different and was something that they could tell others about.
Having more parents participate in the parent group. Success will be them taking part in sessions with other parents. Number of participants will increase and they will report increased wellbeing along with feeling supported to continue their caring role.
Target - 4 sessions Delivered - 4 sessions Parents registered with the service were offered virtual Parent Group sessions through lockdown. However, the attendance for these decreased over time, possibly due to digital fatigue. When restrictions allowed, our face to face sessions restarted. These involved a time out activity and the opportunity for peer support. These sessions have seen more parents coming along to meet with each other, gain support and strengthen their support network. Parents have had the opportunity to have individual support with the staff member. Parents have had the opportunity to chat with each other at pick up and drop off for the other group sessions that have happened.
Three parents came along to Parent Group for the first time. They all shared they were very nervous but felt that the time out activity would give them a chance to unwind a little and do something just for them. During the session, the parents were able to relax and chat with each other. They discovered that although their children were different ages and had different needs, they were all facing the same struggles, fights and could empathise with each other. The relief that other parents 'got' what they were going through swept through the group - to feel that they weren't alone in what they were going through and could offer advice and support to each other. Some of these parents reconnected again at our Family Day session at the local leisure centre and have since met up with their families independently to go to the cinema or for a meal. This has increased their support network.
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. An example of this is shown in the case study below. Our groups have helped young people, siblings and parents to reconnect with each other in times where meeting people has been restricted due to the pandemic. This, without a doubt, has improved the wellbeing of all involved.
A parent approached the service as their child needed to have a PCR test due to being a close contact of someone who had tested positive for Covid. The child, who had additional needs, was very anxious, upset and scared to have to go through this procedure. The staff member was able to contact other agencies to see if there were any social stories, photos or other aids that would help the child to understand what was happening and why. One agency was able to share PEC's and a social story which was passed to the parent to use. These resources were also posted on our Facebook page and were made available to other parents who may have needed them.