Floating care, treehouses, farms and other innovative projects for vulnerable children

There are plenty of examples of successful innovation in children's social care despite the cuts. Here, Molly Garboden and Camilla Pemberton investigate off-the-beaten-track projects helping vulnerable young people

There are plenty of examples of successful innovation in children’s social care despite the cuts. Here, Molly Garboden and Camilla Pemberton investigate off-the-beaten-track projects helping vulnerable young people

Crosby Lakeside Centre

What is it? Crosby Lakeside is a leisure centre, established in 2009, that holds activities for disabled children and young people, including overnight residential trips. The centre provides an opportunity for people of all abilities to enjoy water-based sports such as sailing, canoeing, rafting and other team-building activities. A hoist on the lake offers ease of access and specialist equipment includes dinghies adapted for wheelchair users and moulded beanbags used in sailing boats and canoes that offer support for severely disabled individuals.

How does it help? The centre says that taking part in team-building activities enables young people to form positive relationships with their peers. Kev Leavitt, short breaks development officer at Sefton Council, says: “We find that young people offer each other huge amounts of support and encouragement during these sessions. The overnight stays also enable young people to develop their independence and confidence while providing parents and carers with valuable short breaks.”

Funding: Funded and run by Sefton Council.

Numbers: More than 480 disabled young people attend Crosby Lakeside taking part in various outdoor activities. From the 480 individuals there have been 2,100 attendances.

Young person’s experience: “This was my first time doing a water activity – it felt good.”

Hope and Horizon Woodland Retreat

What is it? The retreat is the UK’s first treehouse-style mental health unit for 13-to 18-year-olds. The 40m2 urban lodge, built using sustainable resources, has been project-managed by construction company Blue Forest UK. It is due to open this month on the site of Fairfield General Hospital in Bury.

How does it help? The treehouse has been designed to provide young people with a safe and stimulating environment in which to play, relax and learn. As well as undergoing therapy, they will be able to complete school work, watch films and participate in nature-based activities.

Numbers: Six children and parents at any one time.

Funding: Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust is funding the £178,000 development plus £100,000 from the Depart-ment of Health via the King’s Fund.

The professional view: Keith Walker, specialist services director at Pennine Care: “Our patients told us that they wanted something different and so rather than developing a traditional clinical building, we aimed to create a place that would really stimulate the young people who use it. The woodland setting around the site provided us with the inspiration to develop an urban treehouse which supports the therapeutic, educational and leisure needs of our patients.”

Care Afloat

What is it? Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Care Afloat is a child care organisation with a twist – its children’s homes and schools include canal boats and a 34-foot sailing yacht. Most young people complete the first few months of their placement on a boat before moving to one of Care Afloat’s small residential homes on land.

How does it help? Living and working on boats is used as a catalyst for developmental work with young people. “The team work needed to move any boat means that relationships develop quickly, clear boundaries are set and young people feel valued for their contribution,” says managing director and founder Danny Curran. The moving location of the homes also enables young people who have been at risk locally – due to gang involvement or sexual exploitation – to sever ties with harmful influences and break negative cycles of behaviour.

Funding: Each placement is commissioned and funded by local authorities.

Numbers: Care Afloat works with 20-30 young people per year and has worked with around 500 young people to date. There are 90 full-time members of staff.

Young person’s experience: Mary Anne lived on a Care Afloat yacht in 1993. She says the experience was “life-changing” and still regards the Care Afloat team as part of her family. “If it wasn’t for the team at Care Afloat I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would be in prison. I was in a lot of trouble before I lived on a narrow boat and then a yacht. We travelled from the River Mersey all the way to the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland. Being away from my local area helped, as did the calm of being at sea, learning skills and the invaluable support from staff. The whole experience taught me to appreciate life,” she says.


Jamie’s Farm

What is it? Registered as a charity in 2009, Wiltshire-based Jamie’s Farm is a traditional working farm offering five-day placements for vulnerable young people, many of whom are in care, young carers or on the verge of exclusion from school. Young people are referred by schools, youth organisations and charities, including London-based Kids Company.

How does it help? Established by former teacher Jamie Feilden with help from his mother Tish Feilden, a child therapist with 35 years’ experience, Jamie’s Farm aims to recreate a family environment where days are filled with group therapy sessions and farming activities, such as feeding and caring for livestock. One-to-one therapy is also offered, often taking the form of conversations and counselling while weeding the garden or riding horses. Teachers have reported that 91% of students who were on the verge of exclusion when referred had fewer behavioural incidents when they returned from Jamie’s Farm. An independent evaluation is currently underway.

Funding: Placements are paid for by schools and the charity’s own fundraising.

Numbers: To date, Jamie’s Farm has worked with 600 young people. Between 450 and 500 children are due to stay at the farm over the coming year. There are 13 members of staff.

Young person’s experience: Shane, a year nine student on the autistic spectrum, was referred to Jamie’s Farm after his behaviour deteriorated at school. He found interaction with adults difficult, and tended not to engage. Two months after his visit, staff found his engagement with school and relationships with teachers and students had dramatically improved.

The professional view: Shane’s tutor said: “He accepts praise readily now and has a great relationship with his year head. He has also broadened his network of friends, which is a significant step for a pupil who finds it difficult to interact with new peers.”

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