What a difference a Crossroads Care community respite group is making to fathers of children with often profound disabilities and special needs

With all the joy that being a parent brings, it can also be a worrying time. And for those who have a child with a disability, the stress can be all-consuming. As well as having to attend to the everyday needs of their child, parent carers often experience social isolation and poor mental and physical health.

Through research and experience, Crossroads Care understands that male carers ‘care’ somewhat differently to their female counterparts. They are less likely to open up about their caring role, often putting a strain on their relationships and their ability to cope – ultimately leading to family breakdown.

That’s why four years ago, the charity set up male focused support groups — Men Who Care and Dads Who Care. Like the other community-based projects that Crossroads runs, they are tailor-made to meet the specific needs of carers. The groups offer regular social activities where carers can meet like-minded carers and seek advice from specialist staff. The aim is to develop a strong informed support network around the men.

Tristan is one of the original members. His daughter Imogen, 6, has Canavan Disease, a rare genetic, life-limiting, life-shortening condition that causes progressive damage to nerve cells and loss of white matter in the brain. It means that Imogen is tube-fed and has to rely entirely on her parents to navigate the world.

Tristan says that the Dads Who Care group has had a big impact not only on his life, but his family’s too.

He says: ‘I started going to the group because I was frustrated that people without special needs kids would say “I know how you feel”. I needed to be among people that really understand and discuss the highs and lows of being a dad to a special needs child. If you need to say how bad you’re feeling, you can.

‘Through the group, I’ve become more educated around the ways in which my family can be supported.

‘The group is warm and welcoming. We started off as strangers but are now friends and our families get together too.’
Nicola Wilson, Care Manager at Crossroads, adds: ‘Although a similar group was originally available in Chessington, the logistics and an offer of tea and biscuits didn’t quite work. We adapted what we were offering so that the men now meet in an environment they’re more comfortable in. It’s a pleasure to see the bonds that they’ve formed.’

Click here for more information about our community respite groups.