The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Children and Young People’s Services Committee (DLR CYPSC) was delighted to deliver the first ‘imagination playground’ in the county today to the Peter McVerry homeless hub for families in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.
Designed by award-winning architect David Rockwell, the playground is formed of loose interlocking parts. Children can design and constantly reconfigure their playground, using different types of gross motor, imaginative and social play. Children can also construct temporary worlds together and create their own games.
Lorna Kerin, Coordinator of DLR CYPSC, first became aware of this playground through a colleague in Tusla Child and Family Agency who had purchased several mobile playgrounds recently for a number of ‘DEIS’ schools in Co. Clare.
Lorna recalls ‘When I saw the fun, social interaction and collaboration that this mobile playground makes possible, I immediately thought it could support the homeless child population who can be socially isolated and far from the natural play environment of their family homes and communities’.
Laura Dunleavy from Peter McVerry Trust, Manager of the Family Hub in Monkstown stated: ‘While of course our focus here is to support families transition to independent living, it’s great that children now have access to such an engaging and developmentally appropriate playground. No doubt it will bring children out of their rooms and onto the playground to play together!’
These large mobile playgrounds constructed in New York are not cheap. DLR CYPSC received funding from ‘Healthy Ireland’ for the ‘imagination playground’. This is part of an interagency project called ‘Happy, Healthy Families’ to support the health and wellbeing of children living in homeless accommodation. Since January 2018, the pilot project has also provided ‘Water Babies’ swimming classes for babies, ‘Mini Movers’ physical play programme for pre-schoolers and ‘Healthy Food Made Easy’ cooking classes for families living in the homeless hub in Monkstown, families supported by Focus Ireland in Dun Laoghaire and Blackrock and families supported by Sophia Housing in Churchtown.
Independent research conducted by Dr Louise Kinlen found that ‘Whilst this programme does not replace pre-school provision, it does provide a temporary social outlet for the children and their parents, along with the educational, nutritional and exercise elements.’ The research also noted the initiative has resulted in; greater interagency collaboration, a clearer focus on children’s needs, enjoyment of exercise by the children and parents, and better knowledge of healthy cooking on a budget. It is also hoped that the play equipment secured through the programme will support gross and fine motor development, play skills, creativity and social skills for young children.
The motivation for this project was the finding of the recent DLR CYPSC Needs Analysis of Children and Young People in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. It found that despite Government’s efforts to introduce free access to preschool for homeless children, very few Early Years Education and Care services places were available in the county.
Lorna Kerin noted: ‘While this is a national early years educational access issue that needs to be addressed due to the rising rates of child homelessness, it’s imperative that locally services work together to try to offer supports that are responsive to the need of homeless children in our communities. We therefore developed this programme in collaboration with our statutory, community and voluntary partners to try to support early childhood development.’
Agencies gathered together in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown to support this worthwhile interagency project including Tusla Child and Family Agency, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Housing Department and dlr Leisure Services, Southside Partnership Ltd., the DLR Sports Partnership, Crosscare Youth Services and the three homeless service providers in the county - Focus Ireland, Sophia Housing and Peter McVerry Trust.
Speaking at the launch of the ‘imagination playground’, Joanne Cullen, Tusla Area Manager noted:’ ‘Myself and Dearbhla Lawson, Co-Chair of the DLR CYPSC and Director of Community Services in DLR County Council are so pleased to see such strong interagency collaboration to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable children in the county.’
The project logistics were complex as they involved multiple agencies, meeting, delivery venues, activities, facilitators and research. The organisation of this was competently carried out by Brid O’Dwyer who was recruited by the Healthy Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Strategic Committee to coordinate a number of health related projects funded by Healthy Ireland.
Brid said ‘This was definitely one of the more complicated projects to organise but it was a joy to work on. It’s so important for physical child development and positive parent-child relationships for families to have the opportunity to be active together.’
The good news is that this interagency project has resulted in the invitation to the families attending the homeless hub in Monkstown to avail of the ongoing programmes run by dlr Leisure in DLR County Council including Mini Movers, swimming and other healthy activities.
Finally the Children and Young People’s Services Committee also hopes to offer further interagency projects to support the health, mental health, education, safety and wellbeing of children and young people in homeless services in collaboration with key stakeholders agencies. Interested services are welcome to discuss potential involvement by contacting the DLR CYPSC Coordinator via email Lorna.Kerin@Tusla.ie. Philanthropic investment is also warmly welcomed to support evidence informed initiatives that can make a real difference to children’s and young people’s wellbeing during this very difficult time in their young lives.