Participation in Action: Volunteers offer respite for families with disabled children

Adam Offord
Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Young people across rural Mid Suffolk are helping to support children with disabilities and additional needs during the school holidays.

Play buddies stimulate and entertain
Play buddies stimulate and entertain

Provider Mid Suffolk Holiday Opportunity Play Scheme
Name Play Buddies

Parents and carers of children and young people with severe disabilities and additional needs often find it hard to get a break from their caring responsibilities and this is particularly challenging during school holiday periods.

The Mid Suffolk Holiday Opportunity Play Scheme (Hops) is a club based in Thorndon in Suffolk for children aged four to 16 with severe disabilities or additional needs. It runs for two days during all school half-terms, three days a week during the summer holidays and two Saturdays every month.

It recruits young volunteers from around the surrounding area to act as “play buddies” in a bid to stimulate and entertain the children and young people it supports.

Jackie Markell, administration co-ordinator at Hops, says most of the youth volunteers are from the local secondary schools and colleges in Stowmarket, Stowupland, Debenham and Eye.

“They have been our mainstay of volunteers because we have links with the teachers who are doing health and social care courses or people who are looking to go into either teaching or medicine,” says Markell.

Young people volunteer to get an insight into what it is like supporting children with additional needs. Before they can be play buddies, the volunteers have to go through training, which covers areas such as disability awareness and how to communicate with people that have no verbal skills.

Safeguarding training is also carried out with the help of specialist child protection and safeguarding trainers Safe CIC, which once completed, allows the young people to choose what jobs they want to do.

These can include acting as a play buddy for the children or just supporting and encouraging them to take part in activities at the centre.

The club has general equipment, including swings and slides, trampolines, bikes and go-karts, as well as specialist facilities such as a sensory room, soft play and art room.

The youth volunteers also help out with transport by sitting with the children during journeys to and from the centre, as well as helping with general tasks such as serving lunch and admin work.

However, none of the volunteers do anything in relation to personal care, medication or behaviour management, Markell emphasises. She adds that there are currently 78 youth volunteers aged between 14 and 23. Of these, 42 are new volunteers who joined this year.

“We try to recruit them so they volunteer during a summer scheme because that is when we need the most help,” she says. “Also, that is when they get an idea of whether it is the sort of thing they want to do as it is very hands on.”

Markell explains volunteering at the club can open many opportunities for the young people, with some attending university before coming back to volunteer again. Others have moved onto places of employment within the education, medical and social care sectors.

There is also an opportunity for the youth volunteers to progress within Hops. Young people begin as volunteers, before being employed at the Saturday sessions and then moving on to become play leaders.

Feedback from the youth volunteers has also been positive. One young person says: “It is great to see the children enjoying themselves and to know that I am giving their families a break.”

Markell says the mutual benefits of the scheme are key to its success. She says: “We value what young people can give us and hope we can continue to give them back something in return.”

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