Improving the well-being of children affected by food poverty

Jackie White from East Ayrshire Third Sector Interface looks at a way of tackling increasing food poverty in a way that addresses the principles at the heart of Getting it Right for Every Child

Food Poverty

We are well aware of how difficult it is becoming for unemployed people and equally for those with lower than average earnings who have to rely on benefits to create and sustain a life for them and their children. Although the Scottish Government have allowed free school meals to all children in Primary 1 through to Primary 3 the provision does not apply during the school holidays therefore those families have the added challenge of finding extra funds to feed their children.

The result is markedly increased food poverty during the holidays and intense financial pressure on families which can have a serious impact on the quality of children’s lives during what is supposed to be a carefree time namely, the summer holidays.

 

The project below illustrates one way in which the issue is addressed but with a third sector organisation taking the lead role.

GIRFEC Lunch Buddies

For children, the Summer Holidays can be an exciting time; no school, no homework, the chance to stay up a bit later and sleep in a bit longer.  For parents, the holidays can be less fun; how to keep the kids entertained for six weeks, sorting out childcare or those who work.  For some families though, the summer holidays can mean the struggle of simply being able to provide a meal for their children.

In Scotland, 117,689 people received emergency food from a foodbank in the last financial year, with 36,114 of those being children. Whilst less than 1% of referrals were attributed to child holiday meals, more than 50% were attributed to benefit delays and low income. It is not difficult to see how these issues can have a domino effect.

In March this year, the Independent published an article highlighting the struggle for families to provide meals to their children during the holidays.  One in five families live in poverty in Scotland today and school closures during the holidays means that these families, along with others on the on very low incomes, face six weeks without support.  The article was picked up by our Shortlees Family Buddies co-ordinator, and this began the idea of Lunch Buddies.

Family Buddies is a Public Social Partnership (PSP) project which has been providing practical support to families in the Shortlees area of Kilmarnock since March 2014.  Shortlees was identified as being in the 5% most deprived zones in Scotland in a 2012 report.  We collaborated with The SKY Projects Summer Holiday Club to deliver our new Lunch Buddies program, aiming to provide at least one meal to children who attended over the holidays.

 

The SKY Project is a free children’s club, based in Shortlees, which has been growing on its success for over 10 years.  This year, the Project Development Worker was awarded West FM’s Unsung Hero award for outstanding contribution to the local community.  We initially piloted the Lunch Buddies idea at their Easter holiday club to work out the delivery and calculate the costs.  We applied to the Big Lottery community chest to fund “Our Place in Shortlees” and were awarded £800 towards the cost of the meals.

The Holiday Club was set to run from 10am – 3.30pm, three days a week for four weeks.  Though we initially planned to provide the children with at least one meal, we later amended this to include breakfast and an afternoon snack due to the length of time the children would be with the group.  Breakfast consisted of cereals, bread and toast, while the lunches were hot foods with the option of sandwiches for those who preferred.

The lunches themselves were a huge success.  The SKY Project had the highest number of attendees for any Holiday Club, with 89 children attending at least one session and 65 children attending regularly.  Throughout the four weeks we saw the breakfast uptake rise from one third of children in week one to 75% by week four.  In total we provided 1,226 breakfasts, lunches and snacks to the 563 attendances at the Holiday Club.

These figures are indicators of the success of providing meals at the Holiday Club, and we will continue our collaboration with the SKY Project to deliver this service at their future Holiday Clubs.

Whilst the aim of tackling food poverty over the summer holidays was addressed, the service also touched on other important aspects of Family Buddies alignment with the GIRFEC principles.  All children were seated at tables, a novelty many of them did not experience at home; they were given the opportunity to choose which lunch option they wanted (two hot meal option plus sandwiches); they were asked which lunches they preferred, which fruit they enjoyed the most, and their responses were taken into consideration when planning the following week’s menu.

We were able not only to provide a meal to these children, but also an environment where they could enjoy the meal socially with their friends, feel included within the group, have responsibility for their own food choices and feel respected through their opinions and ideas.  We placed particular emphasis on the social element of the lunch break, drawing on key messages that indicate children prefer the flexibility to chat with their peers during organised meal times.

We also wanted to ensure that the children participated in some form of physical activity, so we formed links with an activities coach to provide team sports games to the children.  This brought the children together and meant that they had received at least 60 minutes of fun exercise for the days they were with us, in line with Scottish Government guidelines.

Evaluating our Lunch Buddies initiative has highlighted to us, as we hope it will to many others, that the GIRFEC principles can be embedded into any service delivery that aims to improve or support families.  On one level, we hoped to support families and help them avoid food poverty by providing a meal in place of school dinners.  On another level, we were addressing each child’s wellbeing without overtly referring to it or planning for it.

 

Upon reflection we could see that each day a child attended they were becoming more confident as individuals; they were gradually able to effectively contribute to discussions during meal times; took responsibility for the choices they were making about the food they ate and where they sat at the table; and by the completion of the summer holiday had successfully learned new skills and adopted habits, which were confirmed by their parents.

Over the four weeks we demonstrated that a little input into a child life can have a long term benefit, and as people working with children these are goals we should all embody to support them into happy, healthy adulthood.

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