In June 2023 the LGA were awarded funding to support the sharing of good practice across LAs, which supports the home learning environment (HLE).
In June 2023 the LGA were awarded funding to support the sharing of good practice across LAs, which supports the home learning environment (HLE). Case studies were sought to share examples of how different areas are supporting the home learning environment for children with SEND.
Dingley’s Promise are a registered charity who are passionate about inclusion in the early years. Currently delivering 5 specialist centres which support children into mainstream wherever possible, supporting families is a crucial aspect of ensuring every child with SEND has the best start possible. Dingley’s Promise also offer a comprehensive and extensive training program which is currently reaching over 9000 early years practitioners nationally and is free to a number of participating local authorities.
What was the issue or challenge?
Dingley’s Promise was established in 1983 by a group of parents in Reading. Over the years the provision has developed to concentrate on inclusion and supporting children and their families to transition into mainstream provision, wherever possible, with the support they need. The organisation believes that specialist early intervention actually builds more inclusion in the long term. Their approach entails a three pillar approach of supporting the child, the family and mainstream settings wherever possible.
Families were approaching the centres with issues around:
- Isolation and lack of understanding from family and friends.
- Feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to help their child.
- Being unaware of what good early years inclusive practice looks like and the benefits attending a mainstream setting.
- Having been turned away from mainstream settings and not knowing they have a right for their child to be included.
- Being told by professionals that their child will never be able to thrive in the mainstream.
- Not knowing where to turn for help.
What did you do/the solution ?
We ensure we take the time to get to know each family through a variety of ways to ensure we understand their needs and can meet these accordingly. We utilise home visits from the Centre Manager and Family Support Worker (FSW) as the initial step into welcoming a family to our Centre. During this time we seek to understand their home set up, who is involved, their personal strengths and challenges and ways of working with them to navigate these.
- We offer a range of stay and play sessions with the FSWs whilst waiting for a space in one of our Centres. This is a vital opportunity to strengthen the connection between the family, child and the setting and begin building a positive relationship between all. It supports the child to settle into an already familiar environment when the time comes and provides opportunity for the family to become confident and able to ask questions and seek any additional support we can provide. This can be anything from guidance on funding or claiming Disability Living Allowance, creating links between families who can support each other or providing strategies of support for the child which can be used in the home. Attending a session and seeing strategies work with our team is a great way for families to learn and then trial those strategies in their own home with our support.
- Children and families are welcomed into the centre to begin their settling sessions, spending time with the key person and they become familiar and comfortable. We always offer the parent the opportunity to remain on site as their child and they become familiar with the big change that is joining early years provision. During this time we seek to gain further information about the child’s strengths and areas they may need additional support in. We complete a one-page profile, and this is regularly reviewed to ensure all team members working with the child understand their needs. The key person will update this as anything changes to ensure we have the most current information.
- Information sessions hosted by our FSWs also provide another opportunity to seek further guidance and information which parents may not realise they were looking for or needed. These sessions focus on many familiar topics including but not limited to sleep, communication strategies and supporting sensory needs, and can be followed up with the FSW in person should they have further questions.
- Between the key person, our Centre Managers and the FSW we ensure that someone is always available should any family have a rising need, a quick question or just need a comforting face and a cup of tea on a challenging day.
- We recognize that many of our families may need further support with items for the home – whether these are SEND specific materials or cost of living support items. Our teams help families to access grants and donations, plus services such as food banks where necessary. We might support them in looking for donated or more affordable bigger items for the home such as a fridge and we look for ways to ensure children and parents alike are appropriately clothed throughout the year. We also advise on items that can help their child with their development, and where they can source those instead of through expensive SEND-specific suppliers.
- To further support in the home, our centres offer a lending library of various resources which benefit our families and children. These may be story sacks with a variety of interactive props and sensory items which parents can use to replicate a familiar story from the centre at home or an opportunity to explore other resources such as musical instruments, sensory lights, fidget toys and many more which they may not have considered, or had the funds to try.
- We use an online learning journal to share with parents exciting experiences had by the children in the centre and ways these can be replicated at home. We also encourage families to share what they have been doing at home, as this enhances our provision by ensuring EYPs understand what is a currently of interest to the child and what experiences they can revisit to support embedding new learning.
What was the impact?
Over 64 percent of children who come into the centres now transition onto mainstream provision (a U-turn on the previous approach which used to lead to 65 percent of children going on to specialist provision). We are aware though, that the less trust families have in the local area systems, the more likely they are to push for their child to go to a specialist setting. We are working hard with local authorities and families to improve that situation so that more children who would benefit from inclusion are able to experience it.
In terms of the home learning environment parents report greater confidence in supporting their children at home, and greater confidence in the system of support which Dingley’s offers them as a stepping stone into other services. In our last annual family survey, 96 percent of our families felt that our support had made them more confident in supporting their child at home, and 93 percent of families felt more positive about the future.
Learning for others?
- What? Carefully considering your approach and what you can offer families to meet their needs is key.
- When? Family circumstances are constantly changing and ensuring accessibility to any support fits in with the demands of family life and in many cases work is critical.
- Where? Starting where families are is key to enabling and empowering.
- The initial home visit ensures families are as comfortable as they can be as they start their journey.
- How? It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it!
- listen, validate, acknowledge and empower
- Be approachable and communicate in the way that works for them
- Ease, don’t add to the stress
- Be patient and understand families have many pressures on them
- Take it in bite size chunks – both for the child and the family
Catherine McLeod MBE,