Finding strength in family

CHURCHES

A Growing Lives grant of £3,700 from Allchurches Trust is supporting the ‘Strengthening Families Programme’ to reach out to vulnerable families in Sussex, helping them to overcome challenges and enjoy quality time together.

Chichester Diocesan Association for Family Support Work (FSW) is a charity working closely with children and families to provide practical and emotional support for those in need, helping them to get back on their feet.

FSW supports parents and carers who are experiencing very difficult situations by making home visits and providing friendly, confidential assistance. As well as home visits, the 11 practitioners run a vibrant programme of play work to strengthen family units away from the stresses and challenges of daily life.

The programme includes messy play, toddler groups, holiday fun days, after school clubs and Lego therapy – building blocks towards more united families.

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“Before we attended the after school club, we were in a dark place. Josh was struggling having experienced abuse in his childhood and was finding school a challenge. The club has helped Josh to be active and let off steam so he can arrive home in a calm state. This has made for a happier atmosphere at home. He loves talking to other kids and it gives him a chance to get out of the house and try new activities.” Kim, Mum

Funding from Allchurches has given FSW the opportunity to grow their resources and provide good quality games, arts and crafts, SEN resources, books and school equipment suitable for children from a few months old to early teens, including those with additional needs or from minority groups. This means they have something for everyone and can really broaden their support. 

The grant has also allowed the charity to purchase gazebos for use at community events and residential respites, offering shade and shelter and a space for outside sensory sessions.

With the new resources in hand, FSW has managed to engage with over 480 families in 2019-20, supporting 1073 children to learn new skills and build relationships – the majority of children the charity works with don’t often encounter new experiences and opportunities.

Some 58% of families reported a positive increase in the emotional wellbeing of their children, with 76% of parents saying they felt more able to cope with looking after their children having shared experiences with other families at the group sessions.

Some other interesting observations… FSW found that children’s diets significantly improved when they attended sessions and they were more open to trying new things. They also drank fewer sugary drinks and were keener to engage in physical activity – leading to less faces glued to screens!

Another key benefit has been the social interaction element, with 66% of children reporting feeling less socially isolated and excited to positively engage with their families and schools.

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“Our families have been more vulnerable since the start of lockdown and need our support now more than ever before. It is crucial for us to keep our service running until things return to a new ‘normal’. 

“One of the key things we’ve learnt is that our practitioners are extremely resilient and have been a light of positivity at a difficult time” Gemma Canon-Arthurs, Grants Fundraiser, FSW

Unfortunately, Coronavirus has had a big impact on growth and progress for FSW, falling short of their target to reach over 2,000 children and young people in Sussex in 2019-20.

Due to the close social nature of their various sessions, the play work was put on hold in March 2020. Many of the families rely heavily on the sessions, so the charity was quick to put support measures in place.

The practitioners have been working remotely with families, making regular contact via telephone and video calls. They’ve also been active on social media channels, offering advice and encouraging children to share pictures of what they’ve been getting up to in lockdown, keeping them engaged and letting the families know they are still thinking of them.

The creativity hasn’t stopped! The practitioners have been busy putting together activity packs, full of origami, painting by numbers, simple sewing kits which they have been delivering to children’s homes alongside meals for the parents/carers – tasty food the family can cook together.

Despite the challenges, the charity has proved that they can reach families and provide vital support no matter how tough the circumstances. The resources purchased have made a real difference and will have even more of an impact when groups can reunite once more for fun, frolics and family time!

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