I met Shana, a 5 year old girl, during my first week as a practitioner at a school in Southwark. Shana’s mum, Aoife, had been diagnosed with mental health problems; she often felt unable to leave the house and this was having an impact on Shana’s attendance. Shana was really struggling to meet the reading targets for children her age and the family were facing eviction. The Headteacher was concerned about Shana’s progress and attendance, and asked me to intervene as a matter of urgency.
I made contact with Aoife at a school coffee morning, and she nervously agreed to meet me outside of school. I knew Aoife was illiterate and understood from teachers that Shana was struggling to grasp phonics. Aoife opened up to me about her own lack of education and inability to help Shana learn to read. She also told me that she had a problem with her housing. Aoife had been very fearful of, and so had ignored letters from, the local authority. Her poor mental health, isolation and lack of self esteem had also prevented her from asking for support to read and respond to the letters.
I immediately sourced pro bono legal support to challenge the eviction notice and went with Aoife to help her fill out the paperwork for a plea at the court. The warrant was adjourned for 8 weeks and her rent lowered. With Aoife’s blessing, I also began working with Shana to help with her reading skills. Since reading at home wasn’t an option readily available for Shana, regular informal reading time with me plugged the gap and bolstered the support teachers were able to provide during the course of the school day. Shana and I met one-to-one and in a small group at school. The small group work also helped Shana develop stronger friendships and to feel happier at school. My sessions with Shana gave us the opportunity to play literacy games and read stories. This weekly contact supported Shana’s knowledge of phonics and helped boost her enjoyment for books. I fed back to Shana’s teacher regularly and Shana made clear improvements in her attainment and behaviour. Her teacher says she is now a much more confident child who takes pride in her work and she has a much better grasp of phonics. Shana continues to be eager to learn! I am trusted by the family and continue to support Aoife so that she can better help Shana reach her full potential.
*All names have been changed