Swindon SEND Families Voice are offering regular Stay & Play sessions for parents and carers who have children with special needs or disabilities.
This month saw the non-profit organisation successfully hold its second session for members of the Swindon community with SEND children aged between 0 - 5 years.
The Stay & Play sessions usually run from 10am - 12pm and are free to attend. May and June's sessions were held at the Central Preschool space that can be found at Robert Le Kyng School, off Westcott Place (SN1 5HS).
The sessions allow SEND children to enjoy sensory play and interact with one another. It is also a space where parents or carers of SEND children can meet and chat to one another.
SSFV's Amina and Hannah run the group and say they have received great feedback from parents so far.
Amina said: “We’ve just put a proposal in to make these sessions weekly. All of our parents that came last month did say that they would absolutely benefit from us running these sessions more often. There isn't much out there currently that supports families with SEND children like this. We hope our proposal will be successful, and will make sure we share the news once we have heard.
“This is a relaxed, no judgement environment where parents and children can come and play and enjoy themselves.
“Children with special educational needs or disabilities may not want to sit in a circle, or listen to a story, or engage with whatever structured play is on offer at the time.
“With our sessions, it's also about parents meeting other parents, and being able to speak to us. We as staff members here, have SEND children of our own, and have quite an array of experience."
Some of the activities on offer are a Play Doh table, a sensory tent, and access to all the toys that the group have on hand. Snacks, and tea, coffee and squash are also available to attendees.
Amina added: “We are actually running these sessions in collaboration with Swindon Borough Council’s Early Years, because it is a lot of their contacts and families that are struggling. We’re trying to do our little bit, as like I said – there isn’t a lot out there for them.
“Some of the children that visit us have sensory issues and we think its important that there is no pressure for them to play with anything, do anything, or eat anything they don’t want to. It’s a laid-back, non-judgemental environment.
“The overall plan for the future is to try and introduce more guided activities that the children can try and do together if they want, but we are mindful that parents can drop in and out as they please.
“Towards the end of the sessions would be a good time to perhaps introduce some circle time and get all the children and parents attending, together – or at least those that want to join in with this sort of thing. The plan is to have little themes each week, or perhaps a food of the day. We thought it would be nice to get the children together to help make a snack – things like that.”
Emma Hathaway, Early Years Co-ordinator with SENCO for Swindon Borough Council, said: “We’re supporting Swindon SEND Families Voice with this project because we’ve seen the impact they can have – having held our own Stay & Play sessions. Parents in Swindon need somewhere like this to go and talk and relax, and let their children play without feeling judged by others.
“It’s a really great service that is really available for parents. And it is that listening they need throughout their child’s journey because it is not easy one. These sessions are a chance for them to play and enjoy themselves.”
As well as allowing play time for the children, the SSFV team have literature and information about the support they offer. For example, the non-profit has a lending library service that it offers parents and carers.
Members of the sharing service can borrow a number of different items including books, sensory equipment, pushchairs, and toys.
Membership for this lending library service costs £3 a year. Members of the public can browse the catalogue at swindonsendsharingservice.lend-engine.com
SSFV's Jacqui said: "The £3 membership fee goes towards the upkeep of the toys – for cleaning them and replacing their batteries, that sort of thing. We offer lots of different things through our lending library. For example, not everyone qualifies for a specialist pushchair, and they are expensive to buy, so we hope this service helps people."
Kate Murray has now attended both Stay & Play sessions with SSFV. She brings her son Vinny along to play and meet the other children.
Kate said: “My 20-month-old, Vinny, has quite severe behavioural issues and I cannot take him to mainstream play sessions because he can attack other children. He will sometimes kick or pinch or bite, and I get the other parents there having a go, and it ends up being not a very nice situation for either of us.
“Here at SSFV’s Stay & Play sessions, his behaviour is not frowned upon as much because there is an extra level of understanding. Obviously I do not let him misbehave if I catch him, but it’s nice to know he is not being judged, and I am not either. Parents with other SEND children do not bat an eyelid and understand my son is not a nasty child by nature.
“I would love to see these sessions become a weekly occurrence. I think it would be good for Vinny to get used to a weekly routine, and for him to continue to be around other children and play alongside them. It’s nice for him to get out of the house – when I take him out to the park or other public places, I usually have to do it early before lots of other mainstream children arrive for fear his behavioural issues may cause problems.”
Mums Chantelle and Teneka both attended this month's Stay & Play session for the first time. They talked about their experiences.
Chantelle said: "The staff here are really friendly and helpful which makes you feel more relaxed. I came across this group when I was given one of their leaflets through my son’s preschool. I have cause to believe my son may be autistic and I think this was why I was passed along the information.
"SSFV ran a coffee morning that I attended and found it really interesting. I was intrigued by the Stay & Play sessions and thought I would pop along to meet other mums and see what it was all about.”
Teneka said: “Leia, my daughter, has just been diagnosed with ASD and speech impairment. I hadn’t heard of any groups like SSFV’s Stay & Play, where people attending were in a similar situation to me, that I could talk to.
“I wanted some support and to meet others. I have taken Leia to other groups or to soft play with children without additional needs, and people just think she is being naughty or misbehaving. There’s not a lot of places like this – it’s my first time attending today and I like it here.”
In addition, this year SSFV put together 232 SEND packs for families across Swindon. An additional 10 packs were set aside for asylum seeker parents or carers with SEND children.
The SSFV were also in attendance at the Transitions Roadshow which took place on 15 June. The non-profit group set up a stand and gave away adapted SEND packs for older children.
The team say they hope that next year they will be able to do the same, if they receive the funding again. More information about the SSFV SEND packs can be found at https://swindonlink.com/charity/ssfv-send-information-packs/
Parents can book their place at the Stay & Play sessions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The next session will take place on 13 July.
SSFV will also be running a Stay & Play session at the Everleigh Centre in Penhill, during its opening day on 16 July.
Those wishing to find out more information can contact SSFV on 07486 873405 or email email@example.com
The organisation’s website can be found at www.swindonsendfamiliesvoice.org.uk and their Facebook page can be found by searching SwindonSENDFamiliesVoice.