59. Barn till ensamma mammor – Children of single (lone) mothers, Fryshuset
59.1. Short description
Fryshuset is a foundation headed by the YMCA. When it started in Stockholm in 1984 it was located in a former cold-storage building (hence the name – Fryshuset, meaning “cold storage” in Swedish). The creation of the organisation can be seen as a response to young people’s needs.
During its lifetime, Fryshuset has become a well-known and entrepreneurial organisation with a wide range of different activities. Today, Fryshuset runs schools and social programmes as well as vocational training, seminars and conferences, courses in theatre, music, and sport, as well as hosting events, concerts, parties and discotheques. Public funding covers around 5 per cent of the activities, and the rest is financed by a mixture of grants, endowments and fees for services such as educational and social programmes (fees that are not paid by young people or individual clients but by co-operational partners and government agencies). Fryshuset also runs activities in Malmö and Gothenburg. Throughout its lifetime, Fryshuset has worked to find new and innovative solutions to social youth issues and problems. Within the organisation, new projects have constantly been started. Fryshuset also cooperates with a range of public and private stakeholders.
Since 2007, Fryshuset has run a project addressed at children of single mothers in Stockholm, and since 2010, this has also run in Malmö. The focus for this activity is on the children but indirectly the activity also affects the mothers, and as a part of this activity, Fryshuset offers parent education and different kinds of lectures for the mothers. The aim is to support and strengthen children that are living with a single mother in economically vulnerable circumstances. Fryshuset describes the support as being provided from a health perspective with focus on the children’s and the mothers’ everyday situation.
59.2 Concept and ways of addressing users
The project offers three types of activities for single (lone) mothers and their children. The first is the monthly meetings. Up to 500 people – mothers and children – have been attending a monthly meeting in the Stockholm project. On more normal occasions, the participation involves around 100 persons. At the monthly meetings, mothers and children form separate groups. The group of mothers can, for example, participate in lectures concerning aspects of health, during which they will also have time to network and support one another. Meanwhile, the group of children are divided according to age and take part in sports, arts or music workshops together with volunteers – “amigos” – in the project (interview 6).
The fundamental idea behind these monthly meetings is that children of mothers who can be considered as socially vulnerable, need to have at least one window of opportunity where they can enjoy themselves and laugh, without having to think about and take responsibility for a mother feeling bad. The idea of the project is to encourage joy, says the project leader who we interviewed, “we are good at joy” (interview 6). She continues by explaining that the project wants to give these children positive childhood memories. “The children can come here and know that they don’t have to look after their mothers while they’re here, which is something that the staff experience a lot.” According to her, children behave according to how sad their mothers are, and do not allow themselves to feel happy. At the project, it works the other way around as well. The mothers that come here are responsible for their children 24/7 and for them this is a much-appreciated “break” or time to just sit and relax for a while, knowing that the child is having a great time in the other room (interview 6).
The second activity offered by the project is what they call “activities”. During these “activities” the idea is that they take the whole group, mothers and children together, to do something extraordinary. It can be visiting a museum, or going to the public swimming pool, visiting a fun park or a zoo. For instance, last summer, the project leader told us that the whole group was taken to a large zoo about 3 hours away from Stockholm. That trip took a lot to organise: “We have become experts at arranging events” she states, and mentions that six packed buses left Fryshuset at that time and they received much recognition from other colleagues in the house when they saw the number of people that this project involved (interview 6). The main idea behind these activities is to build up and support the relationship between mother and child. The project leader says that the children need to see their mothers laugh and have a good time. She argues that in the child’s view, these activities are things their mothers take them to do, without having to think about the cost, and this is a way to build up the role of the mother in the eyes of the child. This part of the project is costly and the three people employed in the project have worked out a special way of fundraising. They try to give lectures to companies and invite them to come in to co-organise these events with them. In that way, the companies will experience how the funds have been used, and hopefully how they have also created value for the company (Interview 6).
The third activity at Children of Single (Lone) Mothers is called the “boomerang meetings”. This is a part of the project that has been going through many changes and, at the time of the study, had reached a form that the project staff were very pleased with. At the beginning of the project, the staff received many calls from mothers having all kinds of problems. These could be related to legal issues of custody matters, or health, or questions about how the social services function and act, and often these were questions that the three project leaders did not have the competence to answer. This resulted in an idea to arrange a fair twice a year where they invited experts from different fields and institutions to come and give personal counselling to the mothers. For many of the mothers, this meeting can be a first step to establishing a relationship with the appropriate institution. During these and all meetings, the project invites volunteers. The project leader explains that she and her two colleagues could not possibly meet all the needs and answer all the questions of the participants. The volunteers are called “fellow humans” in the project and they are there to support the mothers during meetings (interview 6).
Beside these activities, the project leaders do a lot of work “behind the scenes”. They give lectures and try to represent and make visible the group of children of lone mothers. “There is much to be done to make people recognise the problems of these children”, the project leader states (interview 6). The special method of fundraising, mentioned above, is also a way to make more stakeholders recognise this group. The project has also recently initiated cooperation with Södertörns högskola, a university college in Stockholm, where they give lectures to university students who are studying to become teachers. Here the project leader sees a good opportunity for influencing the general view of this group of children (interview 6).
59.3 Internal organisation and modes of working
There are three persons working in the project. They have become “event experts” and organise most of the target group’s activities. They also raise funds and apply for allowances. Volunteers are engaged in the projects as “amigos” who are there to attend to the children, and “fellow humans” who support the mothers. Fundraising and advocacy are important responsibilities taken on by the project staff, and both responsibilities seem to encourage the other, giving them the same purpose.
59.4 Impact on the governance of local welfare systems
Making the group of children of economically vulnerable mothers visible to politicians, who, according to the project leader, hold a lot of prejudiced thinking against this group, could have an impact on political decisions about, for example, the availability of child care outside business hours and child care at night, which has been debated locally at different periods of time. Another field where advocacy of this group can have an impact is in the discussion about the national norm of social welfare benefits, which today does not include leisure time activities for children (for example, fees for sport or music lessons), or monthly internet costs. This could mean that some children do not receive information sent out from their schools or from other organisations that communicate mostly via the internet. These are questions that the project at Fryshuset is advocating, and where it might have an impact on the welfare system (interview 6). Another aspect that is important is the way that they try to bring the help closer to the mothers by arranging the boomerang meetings; thus, working to empower the mothers to start their individual processes for a better situation.