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Interchange Outer East CROCS Family Play Sessions

Program offers a rare evening out for families with a child with a disability – and they thought of everything!

Thanks to the initiative of local lodges in the district, FFV has supported Interchange Outer East (IOE) for around 8 years, specifically its Sibling Support program.

Recently, IOE has sought to fill another gap in support for families with children with a disability. They note a decline in access to social and recreational services for children under 10 years old, due to ‘respite’ not being funded through NDIS for this age group, and the focus rather being on early intervention, therapy-based supports. This prompted them to launch the CROCS Family Play sessions – and as evidence of the need for such an event, IOE had to cease advertising within a day or so of info being distributed because the events were so popular!

The CROCS Family Play sessions are group based social programs that will not only enhance therapy-based learning and enable children to transition and practise their learning in safe real-life situations, but will also provide a breather for parents and carers, and chance to connect with others in similar situations.

Ever supportive of IOE’s programs, Canterbury Lodge raised $5,000 and applied for additional FFV funding to bring the total to $14,940. This would cover the costs of four sessions catering to 20 families (70-80 people) each.

“We set out to create some events that minimised the stressors and triggers that can come along with an attempted dinner out. One that would allow for a conversation with a partner, friend, all their children, perhaps with other parents, perhaps with no one at all.”

They wanted it to be “an environment that works for them and their family to spend time together, is free of judgement and with some enthusiastic staff to engage with little ones intermittently when/if parents run out of energy.”

CROCS playcentre in Ringwood was the perfect fit – the venue has a lift for those with mobility needs, an enormous amount of indoor play centre equipment, and several accessible rooms that meant they could offer a variety of alternative activities. They hired the space to control numbers, music and lighting, thus decreasing sensory input and contributing to an environment that people were able to self-regulate in.

One parent gave feedback that the session provided “a great chance to use a play space which usually can’t access given the amount of people that attend and noise and sensory overload.”

The team set the space up with amazing detail to cater to all abilities and moods: separate rooms were set up with a slime and playdough space, a colouring and drawing space, a board game place and a Lego space, with a final room as a “chill out zone”, where furniture was replaced with beanbags, blankets and cushions and the room was lowly lit with galaxy lights. They believe its likely that this space contributed to minimal emotional outbursts at the sessions. There was also a ‘stim’ table where people could enjoy a broad range of sensory stimulating toys, which are great for aiding self-regulation.

Visual communications were present to create an environment that was predictable and understood, with a schedule of what was happening when and where. A visual timer to let young ones know when the end of the event drew close supported the transition from the event to home, and a small menu was sent out in advance so choices could be decided without time pressures.

Upon arrival, colour communication preferences were explained and offered. This allowed all of those attending to have a sense of control around interactions, thus decreasing anxiety. It also created clarity around parents and carers who were seeking interactions with others vs those that really wanted time to themselves or to just connect with those they knew.

Staff for the sessions were chosen based on skill set and their passion for supporting children. Some staff who openly identify as autistic or neurodivergent created a positive atmosphere. Young kids and families saw someone with a disability doing well, and this fostered a great deal of positive discussion and connection. The same staff were at each event so if people returned they were familiar to them.

As a result of the event some carers were connected with services/supports they had been unaware of previously. The feedback (from short forms provided at the event) was very positive. The children’s survey indicated that they felt safe, had fun, were able to access everything they needed and encountered friendly staff. Parents also agreed with a list of positive statements and left some lovely remarks:

“The venue allowed us to meet and relax while the kids were able to burn energy.“

Watch the video to see just how many smiling faces were in attendance!

FFV EO Neil Cripps was invited along with Canterbury Lodge members to a morning tea at Interchange Outer East to celebrate the grant and the successful program. Following this, we received an email from Marketing Coordinator Faye Lougheed, who reiterated what was said by IOE General Manager Belinda James that morning.

“We appreciate how Freemasons share our values around the importance of supporting the whole family of a child or teenager with disability, rather than the individual alone. It’s something we are so passionate about here at Interchange Outer East and it will continue to shape our direction for the future.”


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