Peter Cheney caught up with Sarah Fretwell, Children and Families Officer in Mount Merrion Church East Belfast. Sarah has run the pilot of the KidsMatter programme for us – take some time to hear her thoughts on the programme and how it has impacted her ministry, what it involves and how it has helped families in the community who need more support.
How has KidsMatter worked in your parish?
It started off with an invitation to parents who attended our mums and tots group. Initially, they were invited to a taster session to see if they were interested. All of the families were really welcomed and after that, if they were interested, they began a six-week programme that covered lots of topics on how to love our children well and how to build good relationships with our children.
As part of the programme, we had a team of volunteers who looked after the children as the group session was going on, and this was an important way of encouraging parents to come along, as it meant they did not have to find childcare elsewhere. We introduced the programme in the hope that the parents would build a strong relationship with one another – so that when the programme ended after the six weeks, we would have a team of parents who were at the end of a telephone for each other.
We also set up a WhatsApp group at the very start of the six weeks so that I could encourage the parents and they could encourage one another. This platform of communication was also good for sharing ideas amongst parents.
After the six weeks, we took a break for a couple of months and then did another session. We did this to give the parents an opportunity to reconnect and to share how things had been going for them. At the end of their time with us, we went and spent some time socially together, as a way of continuing to build friendships with each other.
What has each session looked like?
Each session lasts between an hour and a half and two hours – during this time we stopped for some refreshments. Our heart was that those who came to this would feel safe, welcome, and relaxed, therefore we created an environment where parents felt they could be themselves and feel confident to share and add to the group discussions. It was more like a conversation and asking questions of one another, which seemed to work well.
The sessions are based around a table; this setup has worked well for us and by gathering around a table, it has created a warm, open space, and it has been significant for the group to meet in this way.
And who has taken part?
We have had six parents in the group, a mixture of mums and dads, which has been great. Some mums and dads took part together, which has been lovely to see as we learn about each other and how we parent. Everyone has a different insight into parenting, so over the weeks of the programme, a lot of people have become incredibly open and willing to give some good and creative ideas.
Eight parents are the maximum, with a facilitator and helpers to look after children who come along as well. The group helper and facilitators are parents themselves. I have a little boy who is two years old and I have learned so much from this programme and so much from the other parents.
What difference do you feel it has made?
I feel that it has encouraged a lot of the parents with their own parenting. In one session, one of the questions was ‘When was the last time you were encouraged?’ and it was surprising that a lot of parents said that they had not been encouraged in years. Since encouragement has been one of the
big topics, we recognise that all of us need to be encouraged, not just children, but adults too. Encouragement helps us to keep moving forward, and so, we endeavoured to make sure that this became part of how we did things.
Our parents also really took on ownership of the group. At the start, I would have provided lots of snacks and asked what they would like, but the parents wanted to have a bit of ownership towards that, so each of them had a responsibility to bring something each week – which they loved to do and they felt as though they were part of a community, which was really important.
What makes KidsMatter easy to run as a programme?
All of the material is easy to follow and well thought through. There are loads of illustrations and helpful tips; it’s easy to navigate and all the extra support that KidsMatter offers is brilliant.
I have a support coach and a Zoom call every month, and we go through our programme and if there is any extra support that I need to run it, they are always willing to offer assistance. Everyone who runs the group is given a week’s training on Zoom – it’s intensive and involves helpful opportunities to have a go at running a programme through role play. The parents are also given a lot of material to take away each week.
Why did Mount Merrion decide to go for the programme?
We were developing great relationships with parents in our mums and tots group, but we realised that there was not a lot of time to get into deeper conversations. So, when we heard about KidsMatter, this was a perfect opportunity to provide a group for parents to talk openly about how things were going, to provide an opportunity for parents to have space to reflect and think, and importantly to provide a safe space for their kids to play.
This has allowed the parents to build good relationships with not only us in the local church but also other parents, and they have now come away with a couple of extra friendships where they can go and receive support.
The Revd Lucy Burden remarked on how delighted they were as a church to have been selected to pilot this programme: “Sarah and her team have done a fantastic job gathering parents and encouraging them. This programme has been a great relationship builder between the church and the community, and for that, we are very thankful and look forward to running the next one.”
How to find out more
The Board for Ministry with Children and Families is delighted to partner with KidsMatter to bring its parenting programme to our parishes. With thanks to the Priorities Fund, the Board can enable 11 parishes (one from each diocese) to access KidsMatter facilitator training and support, so that they can run the programme for families in their local community.
For further information, you can view the video on our website at: https://cfm.ireland.anglican.org/kidsmatter
If you feel that this programme would be of particular benefit to your parish, then we ask you to email Rachael Murphy, our Children and Families Development Officer, at email@example.com or complete the expression of interest form which can be accessed here: https://form.jotform.com/231853196492060