The final bell tolls for trail-blazing Antrim 'Families Together' project

Clive Nesbitt

Reporter:

Clive Nesbitt

Email:

clive@alphanewspapers.co.uk

THE ‘Families Together Project’ in Antrim and Strabane is drawing to a close after five highly successful years in local schools.

It was a five-year ‘transformative project’ deployed in schools within both areas.

The project was headed by Parenting NI in partnership with Action Mental Health New Life and with financial support from the National Lottery Community Fund.

It was initially deployed in six schools within Antrim and Strabane which included Ballycraigy Primary, Six Mile Integrated Primary, Parkhall Primary, St Catherine’s Primary, Sion Mills Primary and St Mary’s Primary Schools.

The project was able to provide support for an additional four schools across the two areas but ‘unfortunately’ this ends this month after ‘five incredible years’.

And one of the principals involved is clearly sad to see it go.

“It’s hard to imagine the school without them – they’re part of the school now and an important part of our annual pastoral action plan,” they said.

Parenting NI has been providing parenting services across Northern Ireland since 1979 in the belief that effective parenting is the cornerstone of strong families, and that parents should be supported to enable them to provide children with a positive upbringing.

Parents are a primary influence on their children and that influence can either be negative or positive depending on the quality of the parenting.

The Families Together project was designed around these principles in order to holistically strengthen these relationships.

Strabane and Antrim were selected as the two areas for the project because of the ‘high level of disadvantage’.

Primary schools within the most disadvantaged parts of the town were invited to become partner schools with Parenting NI to form the Families Together Project.

Once a year, the Families Together Project would host a Family Fun Day with a variety of local agencies joining in to provide fun activities for families as well as information on local support services.

The project hosted a large number of activities, parenting classes, parent and child workshops and counselling sessions for parents and their children within each school.

These included the ‘Time for Parents’ Support and Counselling service and ‘Time for Me’ informal listening and signposting sessions and Time Together for the parents and their children.

Families Together ran a variety of free parenting workshops for participating schools too.

These topics ranged from subjects such as Relaxation, Handling Children’s Behaviours and Healthy Choices.

The programme also ran numerous child workshops, a Parenting Café for parents to informally meet one another and a highly successful Walking Group.

Another of the school principals involved with the programme said the benefits had been tangible.

“I am struck by the diversity of needs and parents being engaged – not just those who are always targeted because of high needs, but also fathers and people of different social backgrounds.

“This is de-stigmatising.”

Over the five-year duration of the project, the engagement of the schools and families involved in the programme had grown ‘significantly’.

This has been particularly noticeable with families who lacked confidence in their parenting ability and self-esteem.

Parenting NI and the Families Together Project have said they were ‘delighted’ to celebrate all the great work and engagement the parents, families, children and the teachers in each school have brought to the project over the past five years.

One parent said they will miss the project.

“It’s like a wee lifeline,” she said.

“It was a good experience – brilliant and highly recommended.

“I’m definitely more confident as a parent and I have a better support system.”

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