Issues of access to Family Hubs come in many forms, including access for parents with disabilities. Although disabilities cover a wide range of mental and physical challenges, some Family Hubs are showcasing how to proactively support all parents, in order to ensure everyone feels welcome at a Family Hub. In their SEND and Family Hubs guidelines, the National Centre for Family Hubs highlighted the importance of infusing a relational, inclusive culture in Family Hubs, by ‘building in rather than bolting on’ SEND provision.
A relational & practical culture to meet every need
Ultimately, good practice starts with, and is sustained by, an awareness that not all parents are equally able to access Family Hubs. When staff and volunteers are well-informed, the culture reorients towards meeting parents’ needs, to make Family Hubs accessible and welcoming for all who come through the door.
As we will see from the two separate case studies below, offering this support can involve a wide range of different considerations, such as:
- Appropriate parking, seating, facilities and infrastructure at Family Hub venues.
- Properly trained staff, to handle both physical and mental health needs.
- Ensuring staff have a good understanding of the unique needs of every different individual / family, by asking them, not just assuming. As one voluntary sector organisation says, ‘Parents know their own limits much more than we do.’
- Bearing in mind the best forms of communication, taking into account those with visual or hearing impairments. For example, texting those with hearing issues rather than telephoning, and making sure any literature is tailored to meet the needs of those with visual or cognitive issues.
- Being sensitive as to how much or how little practical help an individual may need. Staff need to be aware, and able to anticipate and adapt to individual needs, so as to avoid being overly hands-on or hands-off.
- Ensuring staff are warm, compassionate, kind and considerate at all times, so that everyone, whatever their need, feels welcome and valued at a Family Hub.
- Coming up with creative solutions to every parent / family’s need.
- Being aware of the optimal numbers for any work done in a group setting, as well as knowing when 1-to-1 support is needed instead or as well as group work.
Much of this can be summed up by the words of one mother with physical disabilities, who attends a Children and Family Centre in Tower Hamlets:
‘I try and be as active as I can, however, I have been to places that restrict or prevent me from accessing their service because I do not get that extra physical support which makes a world of difference for me. I have been really supported here at Overland and made to feel welcomed.’
Mohammed Ahmed is a Project Manager in the Tower Hamlets Early Help and Children and Families Service. This busy London borough has a very diverse population and includes many disadvantaged families. He says:
‘At Tower Hamlets’ Children and Family Centres, we aim to ensure that everyone has access to services whatever their needs. We actively engage with parents and carers, to gather feedback on what we can do better and make changes to constantly improve the quality of our services, especially for those with additional needs.
This starts with asking each family about their needs so we accommodate them from the start. For example, finding out whether parents, eligible for the disability living allowance or adult personal independence payment (PIP) or with children with SEND, are accessing the right services based on their needs.
We encourage parents to explain their needs and we work alongside them to create effective support plans. So that communication is not a barrier, we use text messages for the hearing impaired and phone calls for the visually impaired.
From a practical perspective, our centres have disability access, including a wheelchair friendly garden area, and we provide suitable chairs for people with disabilities. We also supply hygiene products, such as incontinence pads.
The right training for staff is crucial. Some of our staff are qualified mental health first aiders and we are working towards ensuring all staff have this qualification. We also engage interpreters for courses and 1-2-1 case work to help the hearing impaired.
In our group work, we have both small, targeted groups and larger groups, so that we have the capacity to help many families but ensure that those with additional needs can receive the attention they need.’
How we helped one particular family
‘At Overland, (one of Tower Hamlet’s Children & Family Centres), we have been supporting a mum with a physical disability. She has limited mobility and cannot physically carry her child. We support her by making her feel welcome and helping with access, which includes making sure she can park at the centre and carrying her child into the centre. When we are planning, we think specifically about her needs, and how we can incorporate toys and resources that her baby will benefit from so that she does not miss out on offering a wide range of experiences to her baby.’
Ferries Family Groups
Helen Wade is CEO at Ferries Family Groups, a voluntary sector organisation which has been supporting families across Wirral since 1988 with financial, mental health and parenting challenges, through group and one to one work including peer support, reading groups, mental health support, Family Links’ parenting programmes and crisis loans. She says:
‘At Ferries Family Groups, we practice inclusivity with staff volunteers and group members. Every individual is precious and has potential and we want to ensure that this comes across in every aspect of our approach.
Our venues have disability access and we also adapt for other physical disabilities. For those parents with hearing impairments, we have interpreters to help them communicate when on site and use text messages to stay in touch. Similarly, we read aloud in our reading groups to ensure those with visual impairment can participate and we stay in touch through phone calls.
Our volunteers are trained in autism awareness. They listen carefully and give parents with autism additional time to ensure their needs are met.
Our staff are trained mental health first aiders ready to spot and accommodate people’s needs, when anxious. We make sure we are well staffed so that we have the capacity to provide one to one support outside the group context, when required.
We keep our group sizes small so that we can ensure everyone’s needs are heard and met. Beyond our own services, we direct parents to specialist providers, such as those working with dyslexia, mental health needs, ADHD and autism. We also think carefully about the colours we use on handouts, forms and leaflets so that they are accessible to all.
We know that parents can find the benefits process demanding especially if they have additional needs. For example, we support parents during phone interviews for Personal Independence Payments. Some parents with panic disorder (anxiety) find interviews a huge struggle so we represent them during the interview so they can manage the process.’