The Children’s Sleep Charity developed an innovative programme to support families of children with sleep issues who are on the autistic spectrum. It had found that there was no such support available for these families in England, with far too few specialists and many children being prescribed melatonin – a costly and short-term measure.
The key aims of the programme are: to improve access to sleep support and intervention; to improve outcomes for these children; and to develop workforce skills via workshops. The charity got NHS funding to pilot the project and worked with experts on a workshop programme of evidence-based behavioural strategies to deliver to parents and practitioners.
Workshops and follow-up support are delivered by qualified and highly trained sleep practitioners who specialise in working with children with autism. Families have ongoing support while they implement the strategies and practitioners gain skills to support families at an early stage.
Ten workshops were carried out in Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, reaching 56 parents and 76 practitioners. The programme was evaluated through the child sleep index, to measure the impact of sleep interventions.
Feedback from the pilot was that using a behavioural approach can have a significant impact. All the responding parents who had implemented changes saw an improvement in their child’s sleep habits; the vast majority rated the workshop ‘very useful’, and the others ‘useful’.
Outcomes reported by families included: improved family relationships; sharing family time in the run-up to bedtime as a result of stopping screen activities; child being calmer; improved attainment at school, concentration and mood for parents and children, and confidence in parenting; and a better night’s sleep for parent and child.
One mother, Marie, said, ‘Our lives have changed so much now we can relax at night and get some sleep.’ Another said, ‘We are not exhausted wrecks. We aren’t arguing as much. [Our son] seems happier in himself.’
Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group now uses the service as part of its pathway to avoid the prescription of melatonin, with a significant reduction in cost, and Northamptonshire CCG runs a sleep service with practitioners trained by the charity, saving £80,000 by using a behavioural approach.
The Children’s Sleep Charity is now exploring how the service can be delivered nationally.
‘We feel very strongly that this should be continued and rolled out across the country’ - Parent
Red Hen Day Nursery, Lincolnshire
Red Hen promotes physical and emotional well-being for all its users. Its pedagogical approach values a relaxed yet effective continuous cycle of observation, assessment and planning, drawing inspiration from John Dewey, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and the respectful care of Pikler. The well-being of staff is seen as crucial, and the emotional feelings of parent and child are considered from their first experience at the nursery. Red Hen has a well-embedded culture of good food and a healthy lifestyle that encompasses ‘on-tap’ fresh air, a daily dose of ‘Vitamin N’ and a feeling of freedom.
Bridgewater Primary School Well-Being Team, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
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Leicestershire Nutrition and Dietetic Service
Open to early years settings, services and projects that have worked to improve the physical health and/or emotional well-being of children, families and staff