From isolation to connection

Early Years Health & Social Causes
12 January 2024

One Parent Families Scotland: Giving homeless families space to thrive

Elaine Gibb

A lady with blond hair wearing a pink coat leaning on railings in front of a row of buildings

Several of the grants we make in relation to the early years are to charities working directly with parents and families in communities around Scotland. Here, Jenifer Hamilton, Family Support Worker with One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS) talks about her work with families in temporary accommodation in Edinburgh.

Key learnings:

  • Families waiting for social housing can be placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation for long periods.
  • This problem has been getting worse in Edinburgh.
  • This hampers children’s development and places strain on parents and families.
  • Providing a safe space for families to play and socialise allows services to build relationships and provide wider support.

“It’s a lovely chaos when the room fills”, explains Jenifer Hamilton, describing the Growing Not Waiting group that she runs weekly in Edinburgh. While the noisy fun might resemble any other parent, baby and toddler group, this one is unique in bringing together single parent families who are homeless and living in temporary accommodation in the city.

An acute shortage of housing in the capital means families who find themselves homeless in Edinburgh are increasingly being placed in lodgings such as hotels and B&Bs – exacerbating the challenges of caring for young children.

“Being in temporary accommodation takes up so much of your daily thoughts and can make it really hard to be present for your children when they need you,” Jenifer explains.

“It’s even harder when you’ve got the additional barriers of low or no income, mental health issues or other trauma that you might have experienced on the lead up to getting into temporary accommodation.”

These experiences can be extremely isolating and can have significant knock-on effects on child wellbeing and development.

Jenifer tells the story of one mum who couldn’t believe how far her baby could crawl and roll because they’d simply never been free to move around in a space as big as the church hall where the group is held.

Through the weekly stay-and-play session, Jenifer creates a warm and welcoming space where parents can connect and build supportive relationships with each other – and their young children can play and socialise. OPFS has helped some families make significant changes to their financial or housing situation, too, through specialist support and advice.

The importance of relationships

Jenifer has worked in the third sector for 14 years in a variety of settings with children and families – and has experience of being raised by a single parent herself. The breadth of her skills and experience, and her focus on building trusting, highly supportive relationships with families, have all helped make the group a success.

This can be demanding work and Jenifer explains some of the challenges she’s faced, especially through the last few years: “You’re holding emotions for people. There’s definitely been times when I felt overwhelmed. It comes down to having supportive family, teams, colleagues and friends around you. I’ve been doing this job for long enough now that I know when I need to say okay, this is too much, or you need to take a break.”

But Jenifer thrives on working with families in this way. “We had a student helping recently. I said just pretend you’re hosting a party: make sure that you’re speaking to everybody, that everybody feels comfortable and relaxed, and has everything they need. Maybe relating my work to a party is a good thing, because it shows how much I enjoy being there.”


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