Responding to new needs: how Variety has adapted to support families during the UK coronavirus lockdown
Like many organisations, we at Variety have had to respond quickly to the changing world we’re currently living in, and in particular to how the UK lockdown restrictions have impacted the families we support. Reflecting on the last two months, we thought we would share what we’ve been doing to respond to the immediate needs of families of disabled and disadvantaged children.
Identifying new support needs
Whilst we continue to accept applications through our regular grant giving programmes, as the lockdown started in the UK we began to hear from families how hard they were finding the restrictions, and that they couldn’t find sources of help specific to the new challenges they were facing. As well as managing the demands of home schooling, restrictions on movement were also proving to be really tough on families. The effects of being stuck inside and the change of routine can be difficult for both children and their parents, but for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities we know that this can be even harder. We could see there was a real need to offer support for families which could help them navigate the time in lockdown to reduce anxiety, help their children remain calm and focused, and ultimately to relax and enjoy being together more.
Offering practical tools for families
Our first solution to the problems facing families stuck at home was our Sensory Starter Kits, which we were able to source from suppliers who were fortunately still able to operate through the lockdown. Sensory tools are in the top three most common type of equipment that Variety funds for families (the other two being wheelchairs and car seats) and so sourcing them directly in this way felt like a natural fit for us and something we know families would benefit from. Sensory toys help children to relax, focus and calm down. They help them grasp things with decreased fear and discomfort and enable them to play more easily. They also help them to develop social learning skills like planning, negotiating, and sharing – all of which are more crucial with families living in isolation. Working with our friends at the Variety Golf Society, DPD and St James's Place Foundation, we were able to secure funding for 1,000 of these kits which we promoted via our schools contacts to ensure they were offered to families in need. As word got out, we were inundated with requests, eventually receiving twice as many requests as we were able to fulfil. We have since heard from many of the families receiving these packs that they have made a huge difference to their experience of the lockdown.
Pictured is Tyler, who received a Variety ‘calming’ Sensory Starter Kit
Responding with digital services
In order to support more families than we could reach with the kits, we looked to our digital channels for inspiration. Our podcast series, Pod-Ability, was launched in February this year and is intended to offer inspiration and support along with practical tips for the parents and families of disabled children. Episodes feature relevant experts as well as parents who are experiencing the same issues. When we realised we could continue to record episodes remotely, we seized the opportunity to develop some lockdown-specific episodes to help families struggling with the current situation and have already shared two episodes, focused on supporting children’s sensory needs at home, and looking after their mental health and emotional wellbeing. More episodes are planned around financial issues facing families with vulnerable children, and the issue of schools re-opening for SEND learners.
To accompany the podcast content, we have created a closed Facebook group which offers a safe, private space for the parents and families of children with SEND to share experiences, swap information, and provide support and understanding. It uses the Pod-Ability episodes as conversation starters and whether a child has a formal diagnosis or not, parents are welcome to join.
Ideas and activities for families at home
The final piece in our coronavirus-response toolkit (so far!) is a guide to making your own sensory resources at home. With the aim of helping parents and carers to support their child’s sensory inputs more effectively, all of the ideas can be made from items lying around the house or, if not, they can be picked up easily and cheaply. The guide is of particular benefit for children and young people with autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or other conditions which affect a child’s sensory profile. Packed with over 30 ideas for how to provide stimulation across all the senses, how to calm and relax and how to help with focus and concentration, the guide is available to download free from the Variety website.
Continuing our work supporting families
We hope that these resources will go on being helpful long after this awful situation is over, in addition to our regular grant giving programmes. But we can’t deliver any of these without the backing of our wonderful supporters. We’d like to thank the Variety Golf Society, DPD and St James's Place Foundation for helping us deliver the Sensory Starter Kits and for their ongoing partnership and support.
Variety needs your support to continue to be here for vulnerable children and their families. If you’re able to make a donation, do some fundraising for us or if your company would like to get involved in our work, please get in touch or find out more: https://www.variety.org.uk/how-you-can-help