Sarah Fretwell is the Children and Families Officer in Mount Merrion Church, East Belfast. Recently, she facilitated her first Kids Matter group, which was also the pilot programme for the Church of Ireland. Sarah shares her experience…
We were keen to run a Kids Matter group at Mount Merrion because whilst we were developing great relationships with parents in our mums and tots group, there was not a lot of time to get into deeper conversations. We knew that Kids Matter 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.
Our first group 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.
Each of the six sessions took place around a table. Our heart was that those who came 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 group was a mix of mums and dads and they really took ownership of the sessions. At the start, I provided lots of snacks and asked what people 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 – they loved to do this and felt as though they were part of a community, which was really important.
All of the material was 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 Kids Matter offers is brilliant.
Encouragement was one of the big topics in the group. 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. This helped them 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 in the group. In this way, Kids Matter made a real difference to these families; encouraging a lot of the parents with their own parenting.
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.
We’re looking forward to running our next group.
Read Peter Cheney’s full interview with Sarah Fretwell, first published on cfm.ireland.anglican.org