During the Covid pandemic, delivery of Peep sessions switched to virtual as practitioners committed to finding new ways to reach parents who needed support. This way of delivery was very successful, with high levels of engagement reported. As restrictions have eased, some practitioners have flagged up anxieties, from themselves and families, about returning to face to face sessions. A common question has been about what measures to put in place to encourage group cohesion whilst still respecting personal feelings surrounding Covid.
Becky Robertson is a Family Support Worker at the Shetland Family Centre and moved back to face to face sessions in May 2021, before most of the country. Here is her experience:
I work in a family centre which is not registered with the Care Inspectorate; it doesn’t come under education or schools legislation either – we are a bit of an anomaly really! It means that our parent groups are considered to be under the ‘support group’ or ‘parent and toddler group’ umbrella, which enabled us to deliver in-person from May 2021. This was fantastic, but restrictions were still quite tight in some respects and anxieties around Covid were very high for staff and families.
We started with a pilot group of just three families and two workers, which still felt like loads of people to have in one room at that stage! According to the restrictions relating to social distancing (then 2 metres), the room we were using could hold a maximum of eight adults, but even that amount felt really strange at first.
We adopted some subtle tools to social distancing, without it feeling awkward, and found these really helped to make people feel more relaxed in the ‘new normal’:
Invested in yoga mats for the families to sit on
At 1.5m long it meant that once the mats were spaced out on the floor people were distanced. We also used name labels on the mats instead of on people, which meant a ‘safe zone’ for each family, and everyone stuck to their own mat.
Individual treasure baskets for each family and used washable shopping bags for ‘What’s in the bag?’
Having the individual trays of toys meant everything was washed after each session and we kept the same colour for each family each week; giving families a sense of security.
Laminated song lyrics
These were wiped down in-between sessions. We even did our best to chant, instead of sing, to reduce concerns for all!
Individual reusable travel cups
I saw this in another Peep group and it worked really well. Parents and carers could decorate them and write their names and preferences and we would have a cuppa ready when they arrived each week - they could also take them home at the end of the block. It proved a great option for us as facilitators, not only because it cut out the anxieties around mug swapping, sharing spoons, etc. but also because we could have it ready in advance.
Small, individual snacks in decorated Tupperware tubs
We got the parents to write on any allergies and filled them with fruit/veg for the groups which clashed with snack time.
As well as these new ideas, we ensured that all rules around Covid were touched upon at the start of the session in the normal ‘housekeeping’ introduction, and hand sanitiser was available at various points around the room.
Now that we are living in a world of no masks, testing, or distancing that all seems pretty strict and historic… but some of the approaches are continuing into the new blocks which started in May:
We still use individual mats for the families, and label them, instead of the people. It means less anxiety for families as they arrive as they don’t have to choose a space, know exactly where they are going and know what to expect. It also means that names are visible at all times; alleviating concerns around forgetting a name or a badge being obscured right in the middle of the 'Hello' song. We continue to work with small numbers, trying to facilitate more families by offering short blocks, as it still feels more comfortable to us at this time, but we now work on the principle of recruiting 5-6 families per block.
My advice would always be to start small and see how it feels and progresses from there; it's always going to be easier once the first block is done and each block will flag up things that worked well, and things that didn’t! Don’t overthink it, remember that the families have no idea if you’re ‘doing it right’ or not; plus they love it when you make a mistake or two - it makes them feel less pressured to be perfect themselves!
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