Positive early steps for young children and families
During the pandemic, a grant of £10,000 helped Home-start Falkirk respond to increased demand for its support as the pandemic situation placed additional strains on many families with young children in Denny & District.
The funding enabled the recruitment of seven additional volunteers to deal with increased referral numbers. Five volunteer Home Visitors and two Telephone Befrienders underwent Home-start’s intensive six-week training course to prepare them for supporting families, plus additional training in understanding and responding to factors which emerged more strongly amongst families: depression, the effects of trauma on children, domestic violence, bereavement and alcohol and drug misuse.
Home-start Falkirk began operating in Denny in January 2000. From those early beginnings, the group has expanded its reach across the whole Falkirk council area. Home-start Falkirk offers befriending support along with practical and emotional advice for families who are having difficulties managing parenting for a variety of different reasons.
During the year in which the funding was awarded, Home-start staff and an expanded number of volunteers provided over 2,500 hours of support to families across Falkirk. This included activity and craft bags, Wellbeing kits for parents and their children, Resilience Alphabet video and craft sessions, Christmas Advent bags filled with games, crafts and treats, Christmas gifts for all the family and supermarket vouchers for those most in need. Volunteers read countless books, sang songs, and listened as parents shared the most private issues they were experiencing.
Volunteers responded to the different needs of each family – ranging from walking visits to the local park, garden visits, video and telephone support calls, help to access other agencies and organisations, food and medicine deliveries and many other activities and supports. Volunteers and staff were in touch with families on a weekly basis, checking in, re-assuring parents when things were difficult and reading stories and singing with children to allow parents an element of respite.
Many of the families in Denny & District had new babies and toddlers who had never met other people both in their extended family and socially in groups/shopping etc. Parents were extremely anxious about their own and their children's health, and some struggled to manage older children's schoolwork, entertainment and development whilst living with the constant uncertainty of pandemic restrictions and financial effects. Issues such as isolation, poor mental health, a lack of support from family and friends and restricted access to schools, nurseries, Health Centres, Dentists, and social activities all placed additional stresses on young families.
The impacts of Home-start’s work have been significant and wide-ranging. Parents and families have been better able to adapt to new situations, learn new skills (particularly in technology) and be better able to support their children's health and development. Families have had access to timely and consistent support preventing difficult situations from deteriorating, whilst family finances have improved as staff and volunteers helped them access statutory and voluntary organisations, food banks and pantries and provided budgeting advice.
Parents and their babies were able to participate in Baby Massage sessions both in virtual groups and individual courses, which is known to improve the attachment between parents and their babies, ultimately reducing the risk of abuse or neglect and improving relationships within the family.
Parents were better able to manage older children's education and development during times of self-isolation and lockdown due to the reassurance and guidance of their volunteers. Children benefited from time spent with another adult – not stressed, low or anxious as their parent often was.
“She [Home-start Falkirk visitor] was a godsend. She knows what to do when the boys start playing me up. I know I can tell her anything, and she won't think I'm a rubbish mum. She understands.”
Parents also gained confidence by sharing their own experiences with other parents and listening to how others managed issues. Children could come together again during walks and Fun Days, enabling them to feel as though their world was becoming a bit more 'normal' than it felt over the previous 18 months. They are growing in confidence and making new friends, hopefully helping them build towards a more positive future.
"It's great to meet up with the other mums and kids. I wouldn't have come along if my volunteer hadn't helped me at the start."