Andover Twenty1 operates on a drop-in basis and acts as a self-support group for the families. Sometimes a speaker on a particular topic will be arranged such as someone from the National Autistic Society or a speech therapist, which is chosen by the group. Otherwise the children are able to play – a play worker is available during the session – so that the parents can talk and share experiences.
Feedback on the group has been positive and because the group is based within the children’s centre, families have access to the toy library with resources and activities available for those with additional needs. Andover Twenty1 runs on the first Monday of every month from 1pm-2.30pm and currently supports around eight to ten families, all from Andover and the surrounding area.
Libby Matthews, who attends the group with her daughter Poppy who has Downs syndrome was one of the first members to join and has encouraged other parents she knows to get involved. On what the group means to her, Libby said, “For me, the group is something very special to have on our doorstep. When I first had Poppy, I spent a long time driving to groups and realised how although amazingly beneficial it was also exhausting with a little one. Not everyone has transport and Andover Twenty1 is ideally located in a friendly welcoming place.
“Sometimes it is great to just turn up, sit down and just ‘be’, whereas sometimes you come with a query. It’s great to catch up and learn from each other. Thank you to John for having the idea and seeing it through for us. It’s fantastic that the group is being supported by health visitors, physiotherapists, speech therapists and all the other services that we rely on to help our little ones.”
John, a health visitor from the Andover Health Visiting Team, said that this type of support is important for families especially those whose children have been diagnosed later in life as there is a level of readjusting expectations, which the health visitors can help with. He also found that a number of the families in his caseload said that having somewhere they could talk with others would be hugely beneficial.
John said, “If you are a parent and have a child with Downs syndrome, you experience so many emotions and questions that are ongoing. You can feel as if you are the only one going through this even though you know you’re not. This is why the group was needed and why so many families attend. It is a space for the families to share feelings and experiences to support and learn from each other without fear of judgement.”
Ginny Taylor, Head of Children and Family Services at Southern Health NHS Trust, said, “This is a fantastic innovation showing true partnership work by the Andover Health Visiting Team working with families with additional needs. This is an area of work we would want to grow for all such families across Hampshire.”