Marjorie is an SHS Practitioner based in London. She’s been keeping a diary of her work during the coronavirus pandemic.
Friday 27 March 2020
Well, what a week it’s been!
Due to the worldwide global pandemic that is the coronavirus, life as we know it will not be the same for a long time to come. This now includes working from home, while managing two children, and balancing their needs, while making sure I get my work done.
So how has my first week been?
Aside from my children and my loved ones, my main concern has been for many of my families who are particularly vulnerable for a variety of reasons.
I am worried about the families who have no income, or a low income. I am worried about the families who are on universal credit and those who are crippled with debt, who couldn’t afford to go out and panic or bulk buy and fill their cupboards up.
I have a parent I work with who has severe mental health issues and has four children. Unfortunately, they have all become sick with the symptoms of the coronavirus. This case highlights how multi-agency works at its best. External agencies have been liaising with the families, providing practical support. I have provided telephone support, sometimes twice a day, just to reassure her that we care, and she is not alone) This has been of some comfort to her, as a time like this raises her anxiety, paranoia etc.
There are also families who are not on a “vulnerable” list, but I know through speaking with some children before the school closed who were anxious about being at home due to unhappy home lives, parental discord etc.
I am concerned about families with dire housing situations who have to stay at home. For some of these families, their homes are often not a sanctuary and can be a place of stress, anxiety, depression and frustration.
Families living in overcrowded accommodation, (six people in a two-bedroom house), or the family who are living in temporary accommodation sharing accommodation with four other families who also have children, or the parent who has two severely Autistic children under the age of six, living on the seventh floor in accommodation which is unsuitable due to the youngest child trying to climb over the balcony due to having no concept of danger due to their diagnosis.
The work which SHS does for families across the country will be vital more than ever in this uncertain climate.
There have been uplifting moments too. On the last day of school, a parent came to see me. Before we started, she turned to me and said “I know you probably haven’t had time to do any shopping because you’ve been here, so this is for you” and then presented me with a bag full of grocery shopping. I was overwhelmed, to say the least, as I couldn’t believe that a parent who doesn’t have money in abundance, chose to think about me!
Sunday 8 March 2020
I have been working from home, but still maintaining essential contact with families at a time when they need it most.
Many of the families we work with were already experiencing socio-economic disadvantages. From poor housing, low income, debt and limited access to resources. The grim reality is that these factors are likely to get worse once this health crisis is over, as the economy will undoubtedly be impacted greatly.
I just spoke with a parent who had just been on the phone to her gas/electricity energy supplier. I had previously worked with her to manage some of her debt and was on an agreed payment plan. This morning she was told that they had cancelled her payment plan because she had missed a payment. The reason why she missed the payment? It’s because it was a choice between paying that bill or putting food on the table for her children. Understandably, she chose the latter.
This current lockdown situation is presenting challenges for families which on the surface, are not so obvious.
I spoke to a parent whose child needed his inhaler collected from the chemist. As he suffers from chronic and severe asthma. She had to ask her ex-partner who eventually did collect the prescription (over a week later). He then used it as an opportunity to exert control and dismiss and belittle her and make her feel unworthy.
Or I have a parent who is stuck at home with a partner who is emotionally abusive, and they feel suffocated and trapped.
There was a parent who I spoke about previously living on the seventh floor with two autistic children. Speaking to her made me come away with even more admiration for her. Despite such difficult circumstances she still spoke with such determination and hope and faith, that it was truly uplifting.
These are people who are in the most difficult of situations but are doing the best with what they have.
In other more positive news, the family who I previously spoke about, with suspected COVID-19 infections, are all feeling better.
If this week has taught me anything, it’s that the only way we are going to get through this is by showing each other some kindness and consideration. In times like these, sometimes all you can do is give someone a supportive ear. A little act of kindness goes a really long way.
Sunday 22 April
SHS are adapting and looking at other ways to continue to support our families in the best way we can.
A news report pointed to the fact that socio-economic factors such as deprivation, underlying health conditions and cultural differences, such as intergenerational households have led to an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
This got me thinking about the borough I work in which is an inner-city borough. It is multi-ethnic with almost half the community (47%) belonging to an ethnic minority, including the largest Black African population in the country. As we already know that before Covid-19, these communities were already facing the above socio-economic factors.
Speaking to families each week always draws my focus back to why the work we do is so vital. And why now, more than ever, it is important to leave the lines of communication open and constant.
The lockdown has impacted on all of our daily lives greatly. We know that we have to follow the Government advice and stay at home. But imagine this. You are living in a one-bedroom flat with your two children when your emotionally abusive and controlling ex-partner turns up without a word of warning with all his suitcases in tow and moves back in? This is what happened to a parent I work with. The flat is in his name so she feels that she has no choice but accept this. She said to me “We were already in confinement, but I am now in more confinement”. She told me “I don’t have a voice. I can’t say anything”. Can you imagine the effects of living in an environment where you feel afraid, anxious and walking around on eggshells? This is a parent with whom I had worked with to secure a housing application and she has been on a waiting list with a nine-month backlog! This situation is intolerable, but at this point, she feels that there is nothing she can do. She has to sleep in the living room with two children aged 9 and 11, and her ex-partner has the bedroom to himself.
Every time I speak with families, money (or rather the lack of it) is always an issue. People have lost their jobs, others are on reduced pay, and they are trying to juggle and make their money go further, with less at their disposal. All the bills still need to be paid. I spoke to a parent who told me that she, (like many others) is spending more on food as when the children were at school, the main meals she had to worry about was their dinner, as the children attended breakfast clubs (free) and had their lunches (free) at school. A lot of families have to utilise the services of food banks.
Furthermore, measures have been put in place to support families where children receive free school meals. Of course, this is fantastic, but we work with a number of families who have NRPF (No Recourse to Public Funds). This means that they are exempt from this as they cannot access things like free school meals, state benefits or housing, and this means that families such as these are relying heavily on food banks.
Worrying about money and how you are going to make ends meet on a basic level, is the worst feeling in the world – especially when there are children depending on you.
We at SHS are seeing first-hand the impact that the lockdown is having on our families in many ways.