Ormiston Families sets up parent support group ‘Stronger Together’
Parents and carers of children with additional needs or disabilities can face a lonely struggle to find these children the support they need.
Thriving in school, connecting with peers and developing mentally and emotionally are milestones made possible for these children by a limited number of extracurricular resources.
Recognition for the parents and carers of these children in locating these resources is perhaps even more limited, with many struggling to find reassurance from those in similar circumstances.
Ormiston Families’ Sensory Toy Library recently set up its own parent support group named ‘Stronger Together’, designed to help parents and carers of children with additional needs or disabilities connect with one another.
The group was set up in November 2021 by Ormiston Families’ Harriet James, a former volunteer of the Sensory Toy Library and a Senior Practitioner at our Small Steps Together perinatal mental health service.
Harriet began volunteering at our Toy Library in June 2021, during which time she noted a real lack of support for parents and carers of children with additional needs or disabilities in the Fenland area.
“I suggested to my colleague Anna Palmer that we set up a dedicated support group for these parents,” she explained, “and Anna immediately encouraged me to do so.” Anna provided support for the group regarding Ormiston Families’ policies and procedures as the Sensory Toy Library Lead.
Harriet has previously worked as a special needs teaching assistant and primary school teacher at a local school.
“I’ve seen this lack of support for these parents and carers from a professional perspective, watching parents break down in meetings over the lack of proper resources for their child’s needs.”
As well as having a professional understanding of the struggles these parents face, Harriet also has lived experience of these difficulties as the parent of a child with an undiagnosed genetic syndrome incorporating complex needs.
“Having a child with additional needs means that I know the journey that similar parents and carers go on. When your child is first diagnosed, you feel lonely, and you have no idea where to look for support.”
“Many people look to social media to find groups or pages set up by parents in a similar situation, but in reality these parents need so much more than Facebook groups to help them find connection and reassurance.”
“At our Stronger Together group, I chat to parents to help them feel like they’re not alone. I can talk to them about my own experiences, and I can provide information on parts of the parental journey that I’ve dealt with that maybe others haven’t.
“I’m able to signpost them to places for grant information and other areas they need support with. The group is very much about sharing lived experience and supporting each other.”
“Some parents need basic support with things like carer’s allowance or getting a blue badge. I’ve been in their shoes, looking for that support on these topics, and now I want to help other people on their journey.”
Stronger Together now holds fortnightly groups at March Child and Family Centre in March, set up informally with coffee and cake. The group is facilitated by volunteers and not professionals, reducing the pressure on parents to open up about their experiences and needs.
Harriet and her fellow volunteers provide a safe space for parents to talk, listen and connect to remind parents and carers they are not alone in the difficulties they may face.
“I’ve seen parents walk into their first group session nervous, quiet and struggling,” Harriet explained, “and those same parents are now confident and even open to helping others at the group.”
To learn more about the Stronger Together, get in touch with Harriet at firstname.lastname@example.org.