Cygnet group
Photo left to right – Christine MacDougall, Adam and Kat Williamson, Ingrid Pottinger and Anne Smith.

NHS Shetland’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) has successfully completed a pilot programme that aims to support parents and carers of children and young people aged 5-18, who have a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Condition or who are on the ASD pathway for assessment.

The Cygnet group, which is a parental support programme created by leading children’s charity Barnardo’s, was piloted over a two-month period, with the last session taking place in June. Due to the positive feedback and high demand, another group has just started the programme again. It is currently available to parents and carers of children and young people under the CAMHS service.

During the pilot, the first group covered seven sessions, which included support and information regarding sensory issues, communication, understanding behaviour and supporting behaviour. The final session was left for parents to choose the topic, and they opted for more information on the next steps for their children’s future. The session was supported by Bridges, Moving On, Cope Ltd and The Hub.

Karen Harley, Nurse Therapist, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, said: “At its core, Cygnet acknowledges that parents are the experts when it comes to their own children. The underpinning value in the development of the Cygnet programme is the belief that if parents and carers have access to appropriate knowledge, skills and support, they can often find practical solutions to build confidence in family life.”

Parent feedback on attending the group, gaining knowledge and understanding their child’s behaviour better –

“It was a great group, made you feel less alone”

“I really enjoyed coming, in fact, it was the highlight of my week. So welcoming and made to feel at ease”

“I understand more about my daughter’s stimming now, and try to give her less of a hard time about doing it”

“It has been really useful to learn new ways of managing their needs”

“I’ve learned how much Autism can vary from person to person”

“I understand how my grandchildren are feeling and the challenges they face”

“I was so sad for my granddaughter spending so much time in her bedroom, now I understand it is her happy place”

Full feedback from Anne Smith – parent

“I was pretty nervous about attending the Cygnet Group when I first heard about it. What if I went and I realised that I was, in fact, a pretty rubbish parent? Well, how wrong I was! From the first meeting, I attended I could see that it was a group of people who were all in very similar situations trying to navigate the tricky world of parenting children on the autistic spectrum.

“The presentations were really good at making us all think a bit more about different aspects and led to many discussions within the group. There were quite a few 'ah ha' moments during the weeks. It was a safe and welcoming space for us to be honest and open about our struggles and our wins. 

“I would encourage anyone thinking about attending the next group to go for it. It was brilliant and I have made some really good friendships because of it. Thank you Liz and Karen for hosting such a great programme.”

Further information regarding the Cygnet Parenting Support Programme can be found here -


Cygnet group

Published: Friday, 8th September 2023