Sarah is an SHS Practitioner based in Blackpool. She’s been keeping a diary of her work during the coronavirus pandemic.
I can do this, I’ve got it all covered, work packs have been downloaded for my own five children. Plenty of food in the fridge and cupboards, a plan has been written, a workspace has been set up… all sorted, bring it on Monday!
Monday 23 March
I set my kids off with some home learning tasks whilst I do a welfare phone call to all of my families. Phone calls were made, my families were, on the whole, upbeat and ready for the challenge,I began researching what is available in the local area support wise for vulnerable people, online resources for families. When you actually start looking, there’s actually more than you think out there.
Tuesday 24 March
Today the morning was spent collecting free school meal parcels from Aspire Academy and delivering them to three of my families.
A meeting took place to discuss and plan for changes to the Blackpool Food Partnership, a service that we are often using with our families. Everything was due to change. This virus is hitting people hard and affecting the day to day running of the most desperately needed services.
Wednesday 25 March
Today I had a new referral to catch up with. It’s tricky building a rapport with someone quickly when you can’t actually see them face to face. Phone conversations can be quite stilted but then you expect a mum to really open up about why their son or daughter is behaving the way they do at home and school it brings it to another level. My new mum actually found the phone call to be a relief. Someone reaching out to her, listening to what she was saying and actually offering to help – a bit of positivity in this crazy situation.
Her son is really struggling with his own mental health, scared about the virus and worried about not being able to see his dad. Mum is not leaving the house due to her own anxiety. I managed to put some instant support in for the family, accessing the foodbank for immediate supplies, delivering the Free School Meals (FSM) hampers the family is entitled to and also put her in touch with the CoronaKindness Volunteers from her local area. I made some simple suggestions about missing dad – video calls, pictures & messages in the window and lots of phone calls. I was also able to email mum some mental health advice.
Thursday 26 March
Today I visited the SHS Forum and completed some online training. I decided that I’d try and do an online British Sign Language course, I never realised how uncoordinated I was before. Trying to get my hands and fingers to do different things at the same time whilst spelling out words in my mind. Perseverance and resilience will be needed to complete this.
Friday 27 March
After the team meeting, I called all my families, some of them are really struggling now and it’s only been one week. Three of my families were in desperate need of supplies, just having enough to get through the weekend. I phoned through to the Foodbank to ensure I could pick up some parcels first thing on Monday morning.
Monday 30 March
Today I delivered food parcels to seven different families, three of them were from the food bank and the rest were Free School Meal (FSM) hampers. The local sports centre is being used as a hub to distribute and pack the FSM hampers to various schools. After dropping off from the foodbank I received the most grateful text from the parents; “Thank you so much. I am overwhelmed it is totally amazing and I thank you so much for thinking of us. You take care of your family.” It’s humbling to think about how much we actually take things for granted in our everyday life.
Tuesday 31 March
This morning I was not only delivering FSM hampers to my own families but also for a fellow practitioner. It’s all about mucking in and pulling together at times like this. One family, I delivered to was my new family from last week. Mum was waiting at the upstairs window for me to deliver the hampers. She looked quite upbeat today and proudly asked me, “What do you think of our window?” Mum had sat with the boys last weekend cutting out rainbow hearts to display to show their thanks to their dad & the NHS (dad is a carer).
Wednesday 1 April
Unity FSM delivery today, every school is slightly different. If I had to choose, this hamper would be my favourite. Two loaves of bread per child, jacket potatoes ready for cooking, a tub of grated cheese, baked beans, packets of crisps, a packet of biscuits, 5 pieces of fruit and some cartons of juice. Perfect for making up your own quick lunches. A good thing about delivering these hampers is that I get sight of all my families in an informal way. They realise that I’ll go out of my way for them and their children which obviously builds more trust in our relationship.
Thursday 2nd April
Three more new referrals today. The relief in one of the mum’s voices was quite touching. She was feeling completely alone and isolated with a very angry teenage girl. For this family, knowing that someone will listen to them and be able to offer advice is what they need at the moment. I phoned all my families today. Thankfully, the weather has been kind to me again today, meaning my own 5 kids could play in the garden whilst I made the phone calls.
Friday 3 April
Today I decided to go ‘old school’ and write a letter to all of my young people. Setting them a challenge that I want to see evidence of once all this is over. I’ve asked them all to complete a time capsule activity, which I’m also completing in the hope that we will be able to bury it somewhere in Blackpool once this is all over. I want them to realise that one day people will learn about this in school history lessons.
Monday 6 April
When I dropped off the food parcel to an angry teenage girl I support, her mum was waiting for me. Mum is really struggling with being a single parent with five children at home. Food is limited, mum doesn’t drive and is finding it difficult to access the supermarket. I contacted Blackpool Foodbank and explained the situation to them arranging a time for me to collect the food. Blackpool Foodbank is incredible, they have supplied such an amazing range of food for this family, including frozen meals, fresh fruit and veg for the children. To say the mum was relieved when I returned with the food is an understatement. I left mum with the contact details for the Blackpool Council CoronaKindness Team, this is a fairly large team of volunteers who will help with social isolation as well as shopping and simple errands. It’s sometimes just knowing that someone will help you or listen to you that can help to ease the anxiety and stress. This could be the start of me making a difference with my angry teenage girl.
Tuesday 7 April
I contacted my schools today to ask for suggestions for resources for my families without adequate access to the internet. Luckily both schools have supplied a set of workbooks that can be completed during the lockdown period. The difficulty for some now is that these books are generic and not necessarily linked to the curriculum that the young people were studying at school. It’s made me question if these families are now being disadvantaged as they are not able to access the lessons teachers are setting online as some students are.
To compensate, I’ve asked some of my young people to let me know the type of things they were studying at school and have accessed some educational sites, printing the resources myself and aim to deliver these. My experience as an ex-teacher came in handy here.
Wednesday 8 April
Work packs were delivered today. The packs were accompanied with a note that it’s not a priority to complete this work but may be useful to do at least some of it. The school has been decorated by rainbows by the children that are still attending. It’s really brightened up the entrance for all to see.
I got a thumbs text from one of my lads that I dropped extra work for. I text him back asking if he was completing the work, I must admit I was feeling quite smug… his reply soon put me in my place, it simply said, “not looked at it yet just checking RUok” I’m taking that as even better than him completing the work. I’ve been through tough times with this young person, he was really hard to engage with at school during the first few sessions. But a thick skin and tenacity meant that our relationship was forged by repeated school visits and my trusty pack of Dobble Cards or balancing chairs game. I am now in his circle of trusted people.
Thursday 9 April
My day started with a panic phone call from one of my parents. She is a single mum to four boys, the boys range from ages 6 – 15 and sadly are not having any contact with their dad at the moment because he is a key worker at the local hospital and isolating from the family. The boys would normally see dad at least three times per week during normal circumstances. The family washing machine had finally given up. Mum’s friend had been taking in her washing for her, but this isn’t sustainable during lockdown for anyone. Mum wasn’t asking for me to replace the machine just for advice on where she could get another one with her limited funds. The usual places we would go to were closed due to Coronavirus or had a long wait for the application to be looked into. I spoke with my coordinator and she agreed that we could arrange for a new washing machine to be delivered to the family via the SHS Welfare Fund as long as I could get the application in before lunch, Donna would authorise it and hopefully, the machine would get ordered before the long bank holiday weekend. My mum cried on the phone once I contacted her to say that Argos would soon be in touch with her regarding the delivery of her new machine. She couldn’t quite believe that we would do something as amazing as this for her family. Ordering the machine has done so much more for this family than just ensuring they have clean clothes, it’s reset the balance in the family, alleviated a very stressful situation for mum and so enhanced her calmness once more.
Easter Weekend – annual leave – time to enjoy just being a mum for a few days
Thursday 16 April
We had some promising news today regarding the possibility of SHS being able to supply some families that are struggling with IT equipment and data. Out of my 12 families, eight of them require IT support due to either having no equipment or sharing equipment which in some cases is just a mobile phone with several siblings. This equipment will make a huge difference to these families and enable the young people to complete at least some of the online tasks they’ve been assigned. I particularly feel for my Year 10s, some of whom are beginning to panic about the amount of work they’re missing out on due to the school closures.
Friday 17 April
Today the washing machine arrived for my family. Mum sent me a lovely text, “The washing machine has arrived thank you so much for sorting it out we are all extremely grateful”
Monday 20 April
Aspire – 1,000 Easter Eggs to distribute not all by me thank goodness!
I was given this token by one of my families. They are one of my newish referrals and so completely appreciative of the small things we’re doing for the family and the constant communication that is taking place.
The families are now struggling with familiar things – lack of sleep & routine for the young people is at the top of the list for most. Little or no engagement with school work is also high up on the agenda. I can sympathise with the latter, having a grumpy 13-year old that is also trying every excuse under the sun not to complete his work. I feel it makes me a bit more approachable living through it with my family. Saying that I’m struggling but then also sharing strategies that I’m using at home, not just making it up or pulling it from the internet. Limiting screen-time has been my biggest one. Earning a set amount of time for every hour of schoolwork completed, exercise undertaken or housework task ticked off. I’ve not quite made a start chart for my Mr Grump, but he might end up with one.
My angry teenage girl is becoming more engaging, even sending me a message to let me have her mobile number. It’s a small step, but the first one can often be the hardest one to make.
Tuesday 21 April
Twitter was my inspiration for shaping the day today – @KindnessCoach
“What if today you chose to message a handful of your phone contacts letting them know they are in your thoughts. Imagine how good that would make you and them feel.”
I decided to do just that and messaged all of my families, letting them know that I was thinking about them and here if they needed anything at all – even just some positive words. I even got replies from some of them asking how my family were all coping and thanking me for caring.
I tried a little more of my sign language course today. I’ve set myself the challenge of completing the course before the end of lockdown. Maybe then, I’ll be able to show some of my young people the basics of communicating.
Wednesday 22 April
Toy delivery day! Today the toys that have been donated to SHS arrived in Blackpool. We gathered as a team to unload and sort them out according to our families needs. This will make such a huge difference to our families, especially the families that have younger siblings. It was good to actually see the team in the flesh again. We were also given a bag of PPE equipment that Blackpool Council has supplied for the team. It puts things into perspective when you’re issued with face masks and protective gloves in order to carry out your job safely. My husband wasn’t overly impressed when I arrived home with a few boxes to be stored in our garage. As a team, we’ve decided that as there were so many toys donated, we’ll probably be able to go around again with another delivery in a few weeks time.
Thursday 23 April
Part of daily exercise was taking part in the scouts “Hike to the moon” pledging to walk a mile today along with others in the hope that we’d ‘tot up’ enough miles to ‘virtually’ make it to the moon. It was an activity that I also suggested to my young people. An excuse to go out for some daily activity but with a purpose. Six of my families humoured me and took part. Including ‘angry teenage girl’ and her sister. Mum was amazed that she was engaging with me, touch wood our relationship continues to grow. In a strange way, I feel that I am actually having more contact with parents than I would have had during normal circumstances. I’m seeing most of them once a week and having phone contact at least once sometimes twice per week.
Friday 24 April
Team hangout day – final check-in before the weekend. It left me feeling really worried and concerned about a close colleague. His partner works for the NHS and has just been tested for COVID-19. She’s currently displaying all the symptoms and is not very well at all. He is also displaying some symptoms and will hopefully be getting tested soon if his partner’s test results come back positive. It makes everything really real once you can put a name and a face to a casualty of COVID-19. Before this, everything just felt almost like a film that was been acted out on the news with an extended Summer Holiday from school for the kids.
I posted my second batch of letters to my young people today. The general feeling from the parents I’ve asked was that they really enjoyed receiving the first one so I’ve got nothing to lose by writing again. This time, along with a simple quiz, I included a top 10 guide to protect your mental health whilst on lockdown. I had 3 young people in mind in particular when I selected the resource but decided to send it to all, as it’s got some really simple and useful tips. It’s a funny thing sitting down and writing to someone, asking them rhetorical questions and not really being able to judge their reactions, and also knowing that they can’t actually write a reply back.
I spent the rest of the evening bundling up toys for my families. Matching them to ages and the sex of the siblings. I then added a quick note to each of my young people, advising that although the toys were quite young, I’d picked them for them to complete alongside their siblings. I can’t really see my 13 year old lads being overly impressed with a nail decorating kit, but he could easily set it up for his sister and then if nothing else get a bit of peace from her for 15-30 minutes.
Monday 27 April
Today was going to be an exciting home visit day. Not only were the young people getting their food parcels but I was also delivering toy bundles to some of my families. The poor boot was absolutely crammed with bags, loaves of bread and toy bundles. My deliveries for Aspire have now increased to 14 food parcels, despite only having seven young people that attend the school on my own caseload. The toys have come just at the right time as the weather is changing this week, meaning that the young people will probably not be able to spend as much time playing in the garden. The great thing about today was the parents calling the young people to the door to see what had been delivered. It lifts everyone’s spirits to see the smiles on their faces from the toddlers to the grumpy teens! The toys have been welcomed by families and seen as a gift to support the young people. One boy has even promised to decorate a stone for me from the decorating kit I dropped off. His mum even backed him up saying he will do it if he’s said he will, that’s what he’s like. This is a boy that I was particularly worried about at the start of lockdown, he had been in constant trouble with the police for anti-social behaviour and shoplifting. I truly thought that he’d find it harder than most to stay inside and keep out of bother. Mum has reported that the lockdown has brought the best out in him. He’s helping her around the house, playing with his siblings and attempting a bit of school work after I dropped off some paper versions and a pencil case for him. Mum is on her own with six boys and one girl with four children under the age of seven. This family have been so appreciative of the regular phone calls and visits during the lockdown. Mum said I was leaving, “You’re the only face I see outside of this family and the only voice I hear on the phone that’s not asking me for money. You really are keeping me from going crazy.”
Tuesday 28 April
Supervision via Hangout. I’m not sure if I like this or not. Sometimes a meeting is better face-to-face when you’re discussing sensitive issues
Wednesday 29 April
It’s Unity delivery day today. Their meal parcels were superb today. The kitchen is now trying to accommodate meals that the whole family can enjoy rather than just sandwiches or soup. Today the families got; a bag of pasta, a jar of pasta sauce, a large tin of tuna, a large tin of beans, a block of cheese, loaf of bread, a bag of fruit, crisps and biscuits. It took a while dropping everything off this morning as they also got their toy bundles as well. The front doorsteps were absolutely full when I’d finished. A mum was looking out for me deliberately today. She almost jumped out of the door when I arrived, asking for help. Her daughter, aged 14, is no longer in any kind of routine. She’s now up all night and sleeping most of the day. Mum was tearing her out, she has tried things such as lavender drops on her pillow, taking her phone off her (which resulted in increased stress so it was given straight back) and trying to insist she gets up and dressed before lunch. The situation is made even trickier as mum is classed as a key worker so leaves the house mid-afternoon and doesn’t return until around 18:00 so no one is making sure she is actually out of bed. I gave some advice including limiting her screen time, making sure she goes out for some exercise everyday even if it’s just kicking a ball around the garden, she still has to go in the fresh air. I also would insist she has a shower and cleans every day before she does anything else. I promised mum I’d send her some information when I returned from my drop-offs that afternoon.
On my return to ‘the office’ I sourced some great articles from Mum’s Net that showed the pupil’s mum was not the only parent struggling with getting teenagers to go to sleep, it had loads of tips that others had tried, some more successful than others. I also sent her some sleep information from the MIND website. I emailed the information over and asked mum to keep me updated. I also suggested that I’d start texting or phoning the pupil midafternoon a couple of times a week for a quick chat.
Thursday 30 April
I spent most of today on the phone. My angry teenage girl’s mum called me to let me know she’s taken her phone off her for a few days due to her being so rude and mean to her siblings. Mum needed to vent and to hear someone say that that it was her decision and not completely unreasonable. It’s not as if she can be grounded at the moment. I did also recommend the possibility of her earning it back for a set amount of time per day to enable her to stay in contact with her peers when a mum feels it is the right time.
A pupil’s nan then called concerned about her husband. He’s recently come out of hospital after having heart surgery. Nan just wanted some reassurance that what she was doing was the right thing, wearing a mask and gloves when out shopping, washing everything constantly and still allowing the pupil to go out running in the afternoon. It’s a really worrying and stressful time, her nan didn’t really expect me to have any answers, she just needed to talk it all through with someone but also a little bit of reassurance that if his doctor is happy with the situation then I’m sure she’s doing everything right. The pupil then came on the phone asking when I think schools will be back to normal? The pupil is a really conscientious worker who suffers from her own mental health for various reasons. She loves the routine of school and the social aspect of being with people her own age, especially living in a house of older generation family members.
I then got a lovely thank you text from a mum for the toys I delivered yesterday.
Friday 1 May
The afternoon was spent emailing schools to update the Safeguarding Lead with the contact I’ve had with my families and then completing a final welfare check of all my young people via phone. From this, two families have requested foodbank support next week, stating they’ve got enough food to last them through the weekend but will then struggle. One of these families is regularly using the food bank and is finding that with the children being home all the time, she is spending lots extra money on food and drinks but especially on topping up her electricity meter.
I’m able to pick up from the Foodbank from 10:30, the parcels will be ready for me according to the size of the families.