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  • Writer's pictureGerry Monaghan

"I’m so thankful that I found the Family Service."

Lorraine Wilson is helping son Jonathan develop his reading skills thanks to support from NOW's Family Service

Lorraine Wilson is 35 and lives in Belfast with her son Jonathan, aged 3. She has a learning disability and was referred to NOW Group’s Family Service by her social worker when Jonathan was 11 months. She had been feeling isolated and stressed with the pressures of being a new mum and hoped the service would allow her to meet other parents and make friends, as well learn new parenting skills.

NOW Group is a social enterprise that supports people with learning difficulties and autism. Our Family Service is a five-year Big Lottery Funded project that supports new and expectant parents who have a learning disability, difficulty or an Autism Spectrum Condition. The service provides one to one and group-based support to participants with a child under 5 years old who live in the Greater Belfast area. Participants of the Family Service are also referred into NOW Groups' employment and training service and other support within the organisation.

Lorraine has a key worker, Naomi Gracey, who she regularly meets for one to one sessions. During these meetings they talk about things Lorraine would like support with and set goals of how they will achieve them.

Naomi supported Lorraine with an action plan around Jonathan starting nursery. This included accompanying her to meetings with the nursery before he started so she could understand what the routine would be and what was expected of her. They also created ways for Lorraine to read stories to Jonathan as she struggles with her own reading skills but wanted to be able to support him learn to read. One way they overcame this was for Naomi to read a story with Lorraine until she memorised it, she was then able to tell the story to him while he followed along with the book and looked at the pictures.

Lorraine also attends the Family Service group meetings which are held weekly in NOW’s city centre head office. The groups give parents a chance to socialise and the kids an opportunity to play and meet new people. They often involve structured activities such as Rhythm and Rhyme or art workshops.

Through the group Lorraine has made new friends that are in similar situations to her. They have a WhatsApp group chat where they can keep in touch throughout the week and share parenting advice. A few of the Mums have even had the opportunity to leave the kids at home and go out for a drink together.

NOW Group offer an employment and training service that supports people with learning difficulties and autism into jobs with a future. Through this service Lorraine is taking part in an Essentials Skills English class to help improve her reading and writing and is about to start on a Hospitality Academy which will allow her to gain a qualification and practical work experience.

Speaking about her experience with the Family Service Lorraine comments,

“Before I came onto the service I would get stressed out very easily. I found it difficult to cope with being a Mum and felt like I was isolated. Naomi has helped me understand why I am feeling anxious and what things I can do to cope better.

“I have made good friends with other parents who are on the service and Jonathan gets to play with other children every week at group. Because he is a bit older than the other children I am able to give some advice to the Mums about what I have learned about things like sleep routines and starting nursery. My confidence has increased a lot thanks to the support I receive from Naomi, I am even going to lead a peer support group in a few weeks offering advice about relaxation and coping with stress.

“Before I had Jonathan I used to work as a chef and even came first in the IFEX competition a few years ago. I am now starting a Hospitality Academy through NOW Group and in the future would like to get a part time job working in catering. I’m so thankful that I found the Family Service, I would recommend it to anyone in a similar situation.”

Lorraine, Jonathan and Naomi

If you would like to find out more about the Family Service contact the team on 028 9046 3400 or email

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