Parent support groups are a free service at Gateways Support Services, providing information and support to parents and carers of children with a disability or additional needs.
Jessica, mum of 8-year-old Xavier, says the Gateways Parent Support Groups provide not only resources and education but also a chance to connect with a group of supportive women that she can relate to.
‘You can feel quite isolated having a child that’s got a diagnosis. It’s fine to speak to your other friends that have kids about your struggles but unless they also have a child with similar things happening, there is no way to relate,’ says Jessica.
‘It’s great meeting a group of other women where I can say, ‘I’ve had the worst day’ and I know that they actually get it.’
Finding a group that provided both practical and emotional support through the wealth of information held by the other carers in the group was game-changing for the single mum of two.
‘It’s really refreshing to have people there to have my back and tell me that I’m not doing a bad job. I know they actually know what it is like and understand,’ says Jessica.
When Jessica’s son Xavier, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), was diagnosed at five, she sought suitable parent support groups to meet other families facing similar challenges for ideas and support. She now regularly attends NDIS Parent Connect, ADHD & ADD Parent Support Group, and the ASD Parent Support Group, all run out of Gateways Support Services North Geelong office.
Jessica credits the sharing of personal experiences from others in the groups for connecting her to services and support for Xavier.
‘I haven’t been with a range of different therapists or paediatricians, but these women have, so they can give me that insight,’ says Jessica.
‘Some of them have been attending the support groups a lot longer than I have. Two women, in particular, are truly resources of information. I can say to them, this is what I’m struggling with, and they will say X/Y/Z, this is what you need to do.’
The parent support sessions run weekly during the term and are facilitated by Tess Riordan, the Strengthening Parent Support Program Worker at Gateways. Tess says the groups are an important opportunity for parents to connect, brainstorm and explore with other people who have similar lived experiences who may be experiencing comparable challenges or asking themselves the same questions.
‘This program aims to empower, support and capacity build with families, parents and carers through support groups, education and information sessions, and one-to-one contact and support from myself,’ says Tess.
‘It was created to allow parents to explore the highlights and the challenges within their parenting journeys, to learn parenting and advocacy skills from one another and practitioners within the field, and learn about the services and programs available to support them and the person they care for.’
Support groups currently running in the Barwon region during term include the ASD Parent Support Group, ADHD Parent Support Group, NDIS Connect Parent Support Group, Down Syndrome Parent Support Group and the ‘After Hours’ Parent Support Group.
A similar support program is available in Western Melbourne, with groups currently running monthly, in Melton and Wyndham on Wednesdays and in Brimbank and Essendon on Fridays.
The Western Melbourne team has also recently introduced virtual art therapy sessions for carers to spend some time out to connect, relax and practice mindfulness.
Any parent or carer of a child with a disability or additional need is welcome at Gateways Support Service’ parent support groups. The child does not need to be accessing an NDIS plan or have a formal diagnosis to access the free support program.
Jessica says the groups have been a vital support in her journey and urges others in similar circumstances to give them a go.
‘These groups are something that I’d travel for. For me, it wouldn’t matter where they were if I found something that was helpful, resourceful or even just an outlet, I would travel anywhere,’ says Jessica.
‘I think the other parents would feel the same. We’re all lucky that Gateways is close to where we are, but even if it weren’t, I’d still come.’
Find out more via the Parent Support section of our website or call 5221 2984.