SNUG: retreats connecting families

This is a new video about the Family Action Centre’s SNUG project. SNUG, which commenced in 2009, provides residential retreats for families caring for a child with a rare health condition. At the four or five day retreats (there have been over 50 retreats so far) families have the opportunity to:

  • Meet other families caring for a child with a rare condition
  • Gain useful insights from other families about caring for themselves and their families
  • Have access to a health and complimentary therapies (e.g., dentistry and music therapy)
  • Participate in a range of activities (e.g., swimming, canoeing and archery) offered at the sport and recreation centre they stay at
  • Enjoy activities facilitated by SNUG staff and volunteers (e.g., ice skating, sensory play and family games)
  • Reflect on their strengths and challenges in caring for a child with a rare condition
  • Have a break from some of the demands of daily life
  • Reconnect as a family.

An important part of the retreats are trained volunteers (generally University Students) who make having a family holiday a bit easier. In return, the students gain valuable insights into the strengths of the families and some of the challenges they face. In some interviews I did with students who had volunteered in some of the early retreats (which were initially called camps) the students were very appreciative of what they learnt. I remember on student saying

I’ve got a few clients at the moment, at my placement and they’ll come in with parents and say, “Oh sorry, we’re just so busy, we didn’t get time to do the “homework.” Before I was at the camp I would just think, “Oh they don’t care much” or, “They’re just a bit lazy”, but you can really see why people just don’t get the homework done. (Quoted in Stuart et. al, 2013, pp. 74-75).

Another student suggested

SNUG is an eye-opening experience that develops your rapport with clients, empathy, understanding of family-centred practice and strengths based practice, confidence to talk to clients and professionals alike and confidence to interact with children with disabilities and their siblings. (p. 75) .

For the families, it is a great opportunity to have a bit of a break, reconnect as a family, meet with other people facing similar issues and have some fun. The following are some comments from parents taken from a report written after the first 15 retreats (Stuart et. al, 2012). Note: all names have been changed (normally to a name they chose.)

Kate: You live your whole life with people judging you. Your everyday daily life is full of remarks, it’s full of people full on judging you all the time, so it’s nice to be in this place, it’s almost like a little secure environment where you don’t have to stress for the five days that you’re here.

Vanessa: I can relax and I don’t have to think that I have to cook tonight. Seven days a week I have to think, “Ok what’s for dinner tonight?” And it’s really nice in some ways to be able to relax, chat to other parents, and your kids get other things to do and someone’s entertaining Ethan and he’s just happy to be part of the program, looking around.

Don: It’s good for them to realize they are not the only kids with disabled siblings. I think it is good for them to come here and know that all these other siblings have sisters or cousins or relations that have [name of rare condition]. And they understand exactly what they are going through, and I think that’s been good.

Sandra: Oh we had a great time. It was just a really enjoyable week for us. And the kids, yes they can’t stop talking still about the ice skating. That was, I think, the highlight of their week and they kept going on and on about ice skating and when can we go ice skating – so, yes I guess that means they had a great time. It’s always hard work being a mum, but we had no sickness and Sophie had a ball. So as far as I’m concerned it was a great week. There was no housekeeping, no cooking and no cleaning. Excellent. It was good to see the other parents, other families and share stories, compare issues and just feel like you weren’t so alone and hopefully help somebody along the way.

The retreats are great examples of a strengths-based approach to working with families that engage them in meaningful ways.


Stuart, G., Hazelwood, E., Altmann, J., Stapylton, K., Burgman, I., Mathisen, B., & Sinclair, E. (2012). SNUG: Reflections from retreats for families with children with a rare condition. Newcastle: Family Action Centre, The University of Newcastle.

Stuart, G., Hazelwood, E., Sinclair, E., & Bourne, K. (2013). Service-learning at retreats for children with special needs and their families. Australasian Journal of University-Community Engagement, 8(1), 64-81.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Retreats for families of children with special needs
  2. Service-learning at retreats for children with special needs and their families
  3. An introduction to strengths-based practice (a video lecture)
  4. An example of asset-based community development (Video)
  5. Seven principles for a strengths-based approach to working with groups
  6. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting, Family Action Centre and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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