While there has been much warranted focus on the vulnerable, key workers and corporates support, there is a section of society who are being forgotten about. This has come to the attention of Greater Manchester’s leading family support charity, Home-Start in Greater Manchester.
Across Greater Manchester 5 Home-Start charities work in local communities with families who are struggling to cope. This volunteer-led, frontline support is offered to families in their own homes for a wide-range of reasons- poverty, poor mental health, isolation, domestic abuse, poor housing, illness and disability, family breakdown and families with a child on a Child Protection Plan.
In the last year alone, Home-Start in Greater Manchester supported over 4,000 families, either through direct home-visiting support or specialist projects. In the last year, nearly 300 of these families needed help with their mental health, over 150 families needed help with managing conflict in the family home, almost 180 families needing help with coping with physical needs and almost 250 families needing support in isolation.
These are the very families who, due to the current pandemic are struggling because their support from HomeStart has had to change. Home-Start’s unique early intervention approach of supporting some of society’s most vulnerable families has come to halt due to recent government legislation, and as the country continues to exercise its lockdown, there are families who can no longer access crucial emotional and practical support from Home-Start’s army of volunteers.
Each of the 5 Home-Start charities have reacted to this by switching to telephone support and online support, (where possible), but for parents with low-level mental health issues, or physical disabilities or who are living in deprivation, they simply cannot cope.
Shelley Roberts, CEO of Home-Start Manchester said: “It’s heartening to see the reaction of people responding to the call of the NHS for volunteers- it shows you just how impactful it can be to offer a few free hours of your time to the most vulnerable, but this is nothing new to Home-Start, it’s what we have been doing in Greater Manchester for over 30 years, and nationally for almost 50 years. But now is when the families who we support through volunteers, are going to become invisible if we are not careful.”
These are some of their stories…
Derek’s story – “I can’t let my child starve”
Derek is a single dad to Alma, they live in a one bedroom bungalow and struggle for space. Derek says that Alama finds it hard to cope with the lack of space, even more during lockdown and finds it hard to understand why she cannot have her toys out to play with all of the time. There’s been tears he says. Attached to the bungalow is a tiny garden, ordinarily the family rely on the park for exercise and for Alama to let off steam and to enjoy the outdoors which she loves so much.
But since the pandemic hit, that’s become impossible. Derek is on the vulnerable list of people who need to shield, he has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, caused by years of breathing in fiberglass at the manufacturing company he was a director for.
The days are long in a cramped and overcrowded space he says. Not being allowed out means that there are no trips to the supermarket, struggling with finances is also putting pressure on Derek. The family have been relying on food parcels and the support of Home-Start to see them through. Before Covid-19 Derek was studying for an Open University Degree in Child Physcology, but this is now on hold as he, like many parents, battles with home-schooling.
Emma is mum to four children and lives with her partner in Manchester, she is been receiving Home-Start support for practical and emotional reasons. Emma said: “I struggle with my mental health, from anxiety and feelings of stress to full on feelings of falling to pieces. I was facing a breakdown and I recently spent time in Crisis Point – a short term residential unit for adults who suffer mental distress. I had hit rock bottom and had suicidal thoughts.
“To come through that and now face this current crisis- it worries me. I do not want to go downhill again. I am trying to keep things together for the sake of my children. But I worry, I worry about home-schooling, about my little girl’s health, (she has chest problems and has been hospitalised many times), and I worry about finances.
“My partner is self-employed, but we fall into the category where he has not been trading long enough so we are not entitled to government help. We are living off savings, but that will only last so long. I was really getting myself together before this, but it is a trigger- I am paranoid and over-thinking. I am worried about germs. My biggest concern is that if I were to hit rock bottom again- would I get treated? What’s happening about mental health services during this crisis?”
Hayley is a volunteer with Home-Start, currently supporting a family in Oldham. A single parent herself, she is still been using her spare time to distribute food parcels to the family she was offering home-visiting support to before the current lockdown.
Hayley said: “I can see this current crisis from two points of view. As a single mum of a 14- year-old, the pressure has been immense. My daughter is adopted and has a series of
conditions- she suffers from Attachment Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Communication Disorder, Sensory Disorder and has a form of Autism. It is just me and her
“I am having to think creatively, she struggles with roads, but we cannot get out to the open spaces without driving and we’re not allowed to do that, so I’m devising classes for the garden!
“From the point of view of a Home-Start volunteer, it is hard not to be able to offer that face to face support. Especially when you consider that a lot of parents that Home-Start
support suffer with poor mental health, losing that emotional support is so hard for them.”
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