Friends & Families of Special Children

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Friends & Families of Special Children is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Autumn sensory play
Surfs up for Friends
and Families
Friends & Families of Special Children is a charity based in
Plymouth, Devon, that offers a broad range of services and
projects for children with disabilities and additional needs
and their families. They currently work with 750 families living
and working within a 20-mile radius of Plymouth and have
begun providing a vital set of services. Chair of Trustees Kay
O’Shaughnessy founded the organisation in 2003, after noting the
absence of suitable services while raising her daughter, who was
born with profound disabilities. Kay tells
The Parliamentary Review
what makes their service so valuable for families inPlymouth.
Friends & Families offers services to any family with a child that has any type of
disability or additional need, diagnosed or undiagnosed. We have an office in
Plymouth city centre that acts as drop-in centre Monday to Friday. The office has
a built-in multisensory room, which is used to stimulate and relax children with
severe physical and sensory disabilities. This sort of equipment is often expensive
and difficult for parents to install at home and it is supplemented by a toy and
equipment loan system, so parents can use some of our specialist items away from
our centre.
We also offer training sessions, information and advice, advocacy, befriending
and benefit and grant advice which all aim to help support the parents and help
improve the quality of life for their child. Sessions are arranged at least once a
week, so parents can talk to other people in their situation, share stories and
support each other. Many children we deal with have profound disabilities so
»Chair of Trustees:
»Founded in 2003
»Based in Plymouth, Devon
»No. of employees: 7
»Services: Charity that offers
a broad range of services for
children with a diverse range
of disabilities and their families
»Founded as local community
group in 2003 before
becoming a registered charity
in 2006
Friends & Families of
Special Children
Highlighting best practice
engaging with their senses is crucial.
We are 100 per cent self-funded and
receive no grants or monies from
statutory agencies or government.
Our journey
I founded Friends & Families in 2003,
with the intention of improving the
services available and quality of life
issues to the parents and families of
disabled children. When I was raising
my child, there wasn’t any support
from community-based charities and I
wanted to ensure this wasn’t the case
for future families. In the beginning,
I organised coffee meet-ups where
parents shared experiences and
brought their children along to play.
The meetings became popular and
soon we had formed a relationship
with a local specialschool where I was
a parent governor.
With the help of the school, we
organised integrated family activity
sessions and established a parent
steering group that was intended to
ensure our work was service user-led.
In 2006, we filed to formally become
a charity and within two years we
moved into an office in Plymouth.
We began receiving funding from
Children in Need and the National
Lottery, which allowed us to expand
our range of services and invest in
the equipment available in our office.
Reaching Communities Lottery Fund
have also provided us with grants since
2013 and we have become the main
chosen charity for fundraising by two
Plymouth-based legal companies.
The most recent step in our journey
was taken by hiring a full-time
fundraiser in 2017. Prior to them
coming on board, we had co-
operated throughout the team to
secure funding opportunities, but the
fundraiser’s work has been hugely
beneficial, successfully raising our
profile in our local area. We hope to
see a continuation of this progress,
with expansion beyond Plymouth our
Unique services
We provide two unique projects for
young carers and adolescent people
with disabilities respectively. Firstly,
The Fun and Freedom Club was
established to give young carers an
opportunity to socialise and make
friends, while providing them with
a break from caring for a family
member. For the sibling of a disabled
child, their needs will often come
second, so we want to respond
by supporting them and arranging
events, so they can meet others who
Sensory story time, fun
and laughter
Unconditional love and
We are 100
per cent self-
funded and
receive no
grants or
monies from
agencies or
understand their experiences. To
ensure they are not missing out on
some of the typical formative activities,
we have taken members to such
places as restaurants, theme parks, the
cinema, beach activities and weekends
away to working farms. We have
recently also begun linking with the
child’s school in an attempt to foster
an understanding of their unique
situation so that accommodations can
be made. This way, the child’s learning
will not be compromised. The club
offers them control and the chance
to direct the activities through our
Young Carers Ambassador Scheme.
In response, we have been to activity
centres that involved indoor and
outdoor activities and also provided
an opportunity for them to share
their experiences and feelings, build
on their confidence and self-esteem
and be able to be children rather than
young carers.
Secondly, we started the Youth
Adventures project, which aims to
help adolescents with disabilities
to engage in activities that may
otherwise be out of reach. Many
families won’t have the support to
take a young person with severe
disabilities on a boat trip or abseiling;
however, with our support they can
experience things they and their
parents may have thought were
beyond them. Because the activities
are completed in a safe and secure
environment, the young people feel
less self-conscious and are able to
challenge themselves by doing things
their able-bodied peers take for
granted, take risks and have fun. We
don’t think this would be possible
Future aims
Going forward, we are aware that
funding and grants are becoming
more competitive, so we are taking
the necessary steps to increase our
sustainability. Our head of fundraising
will play a vital role in this process and
we do not want to rely on charitable
grants any longer. We will require new
sources of funding and an innovative
approach to continue to move the
business forward.
Recently, we have begun offering
additional information and advice
service for families applying for
additional benefits and grants and
we have received on average five
referrals a week as a result. Despite
this success, we don’t want to expand
our range of services, but instead hope
to continue to master our current
offerings and be viewed as a centre
There is substantial demand for
our services, so expansion beyond
Plymouth is our primary goal. We have
plenty of examples of best practice
to share with other charities, families
and organisations, and this requires
expansion beyond Plymouth. We
have shown within our area that we
can help to shape things locally and
nationally, to ensure that the lives of
families and children with disabilities
are made better and families feel
they have control and choices within
Despite this
success, we
don’t want to
expand our
range of
services, but
instead hope to
continue to
master our
current offerings
and be viewed
as a centre of
All aboard for Fun and
Freedom water sport

This article was sponsored by Friends & Families of Special Children. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.