Part 9 of a series of posts based on nine principles for supporting permanent residents of caravan parks which are relevant to a range of other contexts. The first post introduces the context and lists the nine principles.
Playscheme’s greatest strength is its simplicity, its inviting appearance, and non-threatening façade. This is a powerful side effect of the playgroup model. Parents feel comfortable to engage in an activity that focuses on their children in a positive way, that is non-problem based, and keeps them out of the spotlight. Our playgroups are free of charge and place no immediate responsibility or expectations on parents. We have a “no exclusions” policy and would never turn a child away that came unaccompanied. 
Families with children, particularly young children, often struggle with life in a caravan park. Although not always the case, residents with children are more likely than other residents to be living in a caravan because they have no other choices. Throughout the forum, the particular needs of children were raised as a being a major concern. In all but one of the 15 workshops, issues relating to the wellbeing of children were raised. Children in parks are often vulnerable to poverty, child protection issues, under performance at school, illness, poor nutrition and injury. At the same time, as discussed above, there are strengths and resources in park communities that can be drawn upon to help children.
Although not all agencies working in caravan parks focus on children, the vulnerability of children means that all staff should still pay particular attention to their needs. Staff may not be targeting children but they have a responsibility to involve other services if there are children experiencing hardships on parks or if they are at risk of harm.
Implications for practice include the following:
Staff will have an understanding of the issues faced by children living in parks
Staff need to understand at least some of the issues facing children living in parks. Although there are exceptions, most people find raising children in caravan parks difficult and are less likely to be satisfied with their accommodation. Particular challenges facing families with children can include:
- Having to eat, sleep and play in one room resulting in little privacy for parents or children
- Child protection issues can be exacerbated by communal living (e.g., residents with a history of violence or sexual offences, difficulties supervising children, frequent turnover of residents)
- Shared amenities that are not well maintained or child friendly (e.g. toilets and showers without full-length doors are easier to clean but allow children to “escape” under the door)
- Problems for parents taking older children of the opposite sex to the toilet or shower (e.g. some parks require children under a certain age to be accompanied by an adult)
- Frequent changes of address
- Inadequate or nonexistent physical safety provisions for children
- Lack of space to play indoors, and nowhere to play in bad or very hot weather
- Poor quality, or no, play equipment
- Difficulties doing homework because of noise and lack of space
- Difficulties maintaining friends because of transience, being embarrassed to bring their friends home or other parents not allowing their children to visit the park
- Communal living increasing the risk of illness and contagious diseases
- Social and physical isolation (e.g. poor public transport).
Kevin Howard, 54, … pleaded guilty in Newcastle Local Court to multiple charges of sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 10, indecent assault of a child and possession of child pornography … Police alleged Howard, who has a 39-year criminal history for violent and sexual offences, had sexually explicit photographs of children stored on his mobile handset when it was seized in September last year … The acts allegedly took place between April and September 2006 at [a local] caravan park, where Howard was living (Daily Telegraph 24 May 2007).
Staff will have an understanding of the importance of play for children
Staff need to recognise the importance of play in cultivating every aspect of children’s development and building the foundation of their intellectual, social, physical and emotional skills necessary for success in future learning. It fosters creativity, communication, social problem solving and flexibility in thinking and helping children to construct knowledge for themselves as they interact with both the physical world and with other individuals . Adult–child interaction during play can optimise children’s cognitive development, language development and social achievement, help them succeed in performing tasks and problem solving, and increase the richness and length of their play [3, 4].
Nearly half of the participants at the forum came from organisations that used activities for children (e.g., playgroups, after-school activities) as an important component of their service delivery. They have found that providing non-threatening child-focused activities is an excellent way to engage families. Because of the difficulties in providing safe space to play in caravan parks and the challenging environment for parenting, even staff who do not focus on children can help residents and managers recognise the importance of play and advocate on behalf of children in a park.
[I would like] having an area for my daughter to play in. She’s not allowed to ride her bike in the park. They are not allowed to play with balls in the park. It’s alright for adults, they have people to play with – I mean to socialise with. But for the kids there is just nothing for them here. The pool is only open October to January or February or something like that, so it’s just not viable for the kids to really get in there either.
Staff will foster the wellbeing of children and take steps to address issues of concern
Once again, although not all services are child focused, because of the challenges of raising children in a caravan park all staff need to foster the wellbeing of children living in parks. At the least they can advocate on behalf of the children to park managers or other services, notify relevant authorities about children at risk of harm, refer families to appropriate services or encourage other services to become involved.
It is important to recruit the support of members in a community to advocate for children. A caravan park provides a very close community that can be empowered to advocate for women and children. The best support may be from other residents who depend on the Family Support Worker’s input and consultation. 
If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:
- 9 principles for supporting families and communities
- Principle 1: Services will make building strong relationships with residents a high priority
- Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
- “I try and make it feel more like a home” – families living in caravan parks
- Building relationship between caravan park (trailer park) residents and school
- Families with children living in caravan parks
- Stuart, M. and K. Ellis, “I love my house! It has two wheels and a door!”. Parity, 2005. 18(5): p. 26-28.
- Hewes, P.J. and G. MacEwan Let the children play: Nature’s answer to early learning. Lessons in Learning, 2006.
- Kwon, Y.-I., Changing curriculum for early childhood education in England. Early childhood research and practice, 2002. 4(2).
- Leseman, P.P.M., Early childhood education and care for children from low income or minority backgrounds. 2002: OCED.
- Daunt, M., Engaging with family members who are suspicious of services, in Supporting residents of caravan parks: Principles of promising practice, G. Stuart, Editor. 2007, Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle: Newcastle.