Aberlour Sustain

Scottish charity, Aberlour, has an ambition to reach more vulnerable children and their families earlier, before families reach crisis point and it’s too late. Its new Sustain services are supporting families in new ways to keep families together and avoid the need for children to be taken into care.

“Edge of Care” was a term garnering considerable interest back in 2015. It refers to families under such severe stress that it was likely children would need to be taken into care.

Aberlour Child Care Trust is Scotland’s largest children’s charity. Delivering more than forty services across the country to support vulnerable families, children with disabilities, residential care and fostering, they were acutely aware of the challenges faced by many families.

“We were working with children that had been taken into care that in many cases could have been avoided if better support had been provided earlier to families” explains Jim Wallace, Director of Children and Families Services at Aberlour.

Aberlour discussed the idea of developing an Edge of Care service with the STV Children’s Appeal and they agreed to fund the pilot and the ongoing service in Highland. “Our approach was not to pick a one-size-fits-all model or operate on the presumption that we knew best what would work for these families. Instead, we engaged in a process of consultation and co-design” explains Jim.

“We agreed a pilot service called Sustain to take place in the Highlands. We undertook several events with parents, children, local professionals and stakeholders to get their views on what types of support had been most useful. We learned a great deal and the service we developed was hugely shaped from this input”.

Some clear messages arising from the pilot were:

  • “We need people to understand what we are going through. Blaming us does not help”
  • “We want people to be on our sides, not on our backs!”
  • “We need people to be there to give us support when we need it- problems do not wait until Monday mornings.”
  • “Sometimes we might need a lot of support much more than 1-2 hours per week.”
  • “The whole family needs support.”

The Sustain work in Highland was successful. “We were able to engage and gain the trust of families, build on their strengths, and help them through tough periods without the family breaking apart” describes Jim.

“As a result of piloting the work in Highland we now have three Sustain services in Scotland. In the last twelve months, 108 children and 56 families have been supported. We are currently delivering a Sustain service in Perth and Kinross and in Hawick and Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. We are learning all the time from the families we support what they need and what works for them.

“Being flexible and responsive is one of the key ingredients. For some families, support is needed in the morning to help children get to school; for others, their support needs are during the day or at evenings or weekends. Sometimes this is very intensive. During the Easter weekend, when many services were closed for the public holidays, we provided over 24 hours of support to families we are working with in the Scottish Borders. Another young person in crisis received 16 hours of support which undoubtedly prevented him going into an emergency care placement”.

Sustain workers offer personalised support to children and families. They take time to understand the needs and interests of young people and find suitable and appropriate activities to engage them. Staff get alongside parents to provide help with practical tasks and to grow parenting skills. They offer emotional support and lots of encouragement.

Aberlour’s Sustain services are still relatively new but have already demonstrated that they can make a real difference in the lives of families that are under severe stress and struggle to cope. The service has prevented children being received into care and contributed to a reduction in Child Protection orders. As a result of demonstrable improvements in parenting and family relationships, children have been de-registered from the Child Protection Register and compulsory supervision orders have been removed.

Aberlour recognises that some children will be in situations where the only option is that the child is taken into care. However, they strongly believe there are many more children who could avoid coming into care if families receive the right support, at the right time. “If we can prevent children coming into care” says Jim, “it is better for the children and families but also more cost-effective for local authorities”.

“When you are down on your knees and fighting to keep you family together and feel that you just cannot take any more both physically and mentally Sustain coming into your life is the best thing that can happen to you. They support the children and focus on their talents and worries, schooling, various appointments. They will support the families who are caring for the children. They listen, advise, and teach you techniques. They are with you every step of the way through some really dark times. It’s not a quick fix but they do make you feel that there is hope and give you the strength to keep going”. Family member helped by Aberlour Sustain.


More information: www.aberlour.org.uk 0800 085 6150