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Working with Families Throughout Lockdown

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I have been working with families referred to Big Manchester for the last five years and there is always layers of complexity that never comes to light immediately – the aim is to build a really trusting relationship and through this comes the story. Covid-19 added a completely unexpected level of complexity to everyone’s lives and for Sarah this was no different but had an unexpected positive outcome.

Sarah is a single mother with two children, Emily aged 10 and Scott aged 6. The family were referred to Big Manchester as they had previously experienced domestic violence and the children’s school were concerned about the impact of this on the family unit. In particular Scott’s behaviour at school was becoming increasingly difficult to manage and Scott was frequently excluded from school.

Prior to the onset of the pandemic the family began work with Big Manchester. This involved a therapeutic intervention with Sarah to give her space and opportunity to discuss her own childhood, her previous and current mental health, the various traumas she had experienced in her own life, her experiences of being pregnant, of parenting and her hopes and fears regarding her family’s future. This deep level of discussion and work with Sarah enabled her to identify past experiences that were causing her issues in the present and make a plan that she was able maintain of how to address and work through these residual issues. Alongside this both Emily and Scott received weekly one-to-one therapeutic play sessions; these sessions enabled the children to have a consistent, safe space to explore their experiences and emotions through play.

Although at this point Sarah had made great progress in accessing support for her current mental health needs and her previous traumatic experiences, there had been little change in Scott’s behaviour at school. Sarah and Scott have a close and loving relationship and it was becoming clear that Scott was aware if he was excluded from school then he would be able to spend more time with his mother. Scott was placed on a reduced timetable at school and school began to speak of permanently excluding Scott. When the pandemic started along with the first round of school closures, there was great concern that Sarah would not be able to manage having Scott at home full-time and that when school re-opened Scott would not be able to manage the return to school after a long period of being on a part-time timetable and the long period of being at home with his mother.

With support Sarah worked hard to create a structured but nurturing routine at home for both Scott and Emily. Sarah accessed resources through Big Manchester and through her own research created a supportive home school environment where her children thrived and Scott was able to catch up on some of the learning he had missed through the frequent exclusions from school. In particular, Sarah focused on improving Scott’s language and communication skills. Scott and Emily’s weekly therapeutic play sessions continued with the use of video.

When school was about to re-open they contacted Sarah to say school felt unable to manage Scott with the restrictions in place and to ask Sarah to keep Scott off school until further support for him was accessed. School were unable to say when this support would be in place. Sarah was able to speak with school to explain the home schooling routine she had created and maintained and to discuss the progress Scott had made, particularly with his communication skills. School agreed to trial Scott returning on a full-time basis when all the other children returned.

This trial went well and Scott returned to full-time school, Scott’s improved language and communication skills meant he was able to speak with staff at school when he found things difficult and this brought an immediate reduction in his violent and aggressive behaviour.

Scott has not been excluded from school since the pandemic and regularly receives awards for his behaviour at school and progress with his school work. Sarah’s confidence and self-esteem were greatly improved by seeing the impact her home schooling had on Scott and by her ability to successfully advocate for Scott to return to school full-time and at the same time as all the other children.

Kerry Evans, Big Manchester Family Intervention Worker


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