The History of Stepping Stones
Three ladies from Sketty Methodist Church, Joy Dyer, Caroline Crimp and Margaret Hancock found that there was no support available for families who had pre-school children with special needs. Under the auspices of the National Children’s Home (NCH)– (now known as Action for Children) they set up a playgroup for theses families in October 1979. It was known as the Killay Family Support Group (KFSG). Families from the local community were also encouraged to attend, as integration was seen as paramount. Children with Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, Visual Impairment and many other disabilities received tailor made developmental programmes through the medium of play. Parents were encouraged to learn how to help their children in the most positive way, whilst also receiving support for themselves. Over time the services of speech therapists, physiotherapists, health visitors, educational psychologists and paediatricians also became available.
This is a brief description of the various stages in the development of Stepping Stones...
In 1869, Methodist clergyman, Thomas Stephenson, set up the National Children’s Home charity (now known as Action for Children) in London. The NCH set up their Swansea Branch at Killay House, Gower Road in 1948. Mr and Mrs Crimp were managers of the hostel and Rev. Ron Dyer the Chaplin. The Sketty Methodists’ Young Wives group, which included Joy Dyer, Caroline Crimp and Margaret Hancock, were inspired to form The Killay Family Support Group after watching some slides of a National Children’s Home in Ebly in Gloucestershire where the staff worked on a one to one basis with a small group of severely disabled children. This, together with the experience of Joy Dyer gave the group the impetus to approach Sister Peggy, who was the superintendent of Killay House. She gave her approval and support for the initial plan. It took a year of hard persuasion before approval was finally granted by Stephenson Hall in London. It was in October 1979, that Killay Family Support Group (KFSG) opened it's doors of a large, warm hut in the grounds of Killay House to receive its first families. The aim was to support the parents and help the children up to the age of 5 years. The Swansea Methodist circuit which stretches from Gower to Pontardawe provided the vital financial donations and the necessary volunteers to run the facility. Dr Agarwal, Consultant Paediatrician of Singleton Hospital initially referred five children to the KFSG and continued to support the Centre, until he retired. (Stepping Stones is now a well-recognised project and children are referred from all paediatricians).
KFSG had an ‘inclusive’ philosophy, where parents and referred children would work and play with their siblings and other pre-school children from the community. It was seen as a group for mutual support. Veronica Wood was one of the latter group of parents. She, with other parents, went on to set up PIP, Parents in Partnership, reinforcing the mutual help and strength available in the ‘inclusive’ approach.
As KFSG grew, there was some NHS support available, with physiotherapist Julie Harvey. There was, at that time, a conscious emphasis on the conductive learning approach pioneered at the Peto Institute in Hungary, for some children with cerebral palsy. This was called Movement Therapy. This was put into practice with the help of physiotherapist. A three-bedded unit was also set up in Killay House. It provided respite care for families in need of a break. West Glamorgan Health Authority appointed a 'special' health visitor (HV) with a remit to meet the needs of pre-school children with a disability in the county. The HV became a regular visitor to the KFSG. Later, this was extended to include two physiotherapists and a speech therapist. In 1989, the KFSG moved into the current building. It was at this point that the name of the group changed to Stepping Stones Children's Centre. The work inspired and initiated then, has continued over the years.
Margaret retired in September 1996 after 17 years of service. Delyth Lewis then became the project manager and worked tirelessly for 7 years. Unfortunately, due to the heavy demand for places for children with a disability, integration at the Centre was withdrawn at this time. Delyth was instrumental in setting up Friends of Stepping Stones and also secured Cymorth funding from the Welsh Assembly. Shankari Sivakumaran, the present manager came into post in 2002. She has continued with the hard work and has secured further funding from Flying Start and the Local Authority and expanded the service. The project now also offers an outreach service called 'Portage' in the family home for those who cannot attend the Centre for various reasons. An 8 week support programme is also delivered to families who have a pre-school child with Autism. Stepping Stones is now a well recognised Centre not only by the health sector but also by the Local Education Authority. We have regular visits not only by the health professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists etc but also by the Educational Psychologists and teachers for the deaf and visually impaired children. As the recognition of the work delivered has grown, so has the demand for places. This meant more funding was needed to deliver sessions and be open every day. Friends of Stepping Stones (FoSS) stepped in and has become an integral part of the Centre.
FoSS (comprised of ex and current parents and any well-wishers) has been a funding partner of the Centre for over 12 years. This funding has not only helped to increase the number of staff at the Centre but also to deliver two extra sessions which in turn has helped the Centre to deliver a service to many more families. FoSS also purchased a People Carrier for the Centre, to help families who did not have their own transport to access the service. The project also has very dedicated volunteers who are valued greatly for the time and service they offer the project. Currently, 82 families access the service in the project and 15 families are given a Portage service in their own home on a weekly basis. A further 15 families who have pre-school children with Autism are supported for 8 weeks in the child's home even if they are attending the Centre - a total of 112 families!!
Please help us to keep this much needed service going by either giving your time - attending the FoSS meetings or donating to the charity. All information on how you can do this is on the website.