We do a lot of different things at Bolster Community, but for now let me help you understand one aspect of our work Family Support. We often assume people understand what we mean when we talk about this topic, but more often than not, people are unsure. Someone said recently that good family support is just a guest appearance in someone else’s life to help when things get tough!
That’s a great descriptor often the families we support were doing fine until someone got sick, someone or something began causing distress and coupled with other stressors such as lack of choice, or money or space, outside help is needed.
So many of us know our brains are hardwired to fight or flight …. the same group of neurons could make any of us a hero or a villain, we know also that parenting is tough at the best of times, and the toll of the pandemic on parents and children is considerable.
Parents tell us they are “losing It”, are “at the end of their tether”, frightened, tired, exhausted and for many parents impacted by mental health worried, that the next challenge they face may well become a tipping point, the Fight or Flight neurons will kick in
Sadly, Across Northern Ireland and wider afield, we are hearing daily reports of violence and crime in the home. In recent weeks, the tragic loss of tiny children and others left fighting for their life, has caused us all to reflect on the horror of “Losing it”. Many children injured by violence in the home, survive but are left with a life of trauma, injury and disability.
Parents have confided in our staff that they have reached a crossroads, the burden of family life and the pandemic is crushing, for many, particularly those with children with additional needs, the daily struggle is crippling. Often one little drama on top of all of the other dramas can tip the strongest parent over into feeling hopeless, lost, unable to cope!
I recall one such moment in my glittering parenting disasters memoire, walking in to the utility room to find that my 9-year-old had tipped a COOLED deep fat fryer over a basket of freshly laundered clothes. I have read the books that say don’t yell at your kids, I want to be the best parent I can, but here I am absolutely losing it as I took in the scene and watched the crisp and dry spill serenely over the worktop and into the open cupboards below. Time froze as I took it in, I screamed so loud the dogs flew out the back door and into their kennels, the 9-year-old moved faster though…
I often recall the absolute exhaustion I felt in cleaning up that mess, my self-talk telling me to calm down and get a grip and my inner voice saying seriously is this it? I can’t take any more of this parenting lark never mind the 2 dogs that followed me everywhere, the juggling was proving a challenge too. The work stuff and the mummy stuff and the daughter stuff and wife stuff and overthinking – Is this it? is there a conspiracy against women everywhere? A friend of mine casually told me that her husband had a habit of pointing out the chores undone that day, she quietly reminded him… she had a job. If he would like her to change jobs to include cleaning and cooking full time, that wouldn’t be a problem, as long as the rate of pay was commensurate with her existing salary.
We have come through a lot in NI, and poverty and mental health issues impact on all of us, there are many challenges for all parents, no we are not saying that only poor people experience challenge as parents, but everything becomes more difficult when you are surviving pay packet to pay packet and are carrying stress and anxiety.
Did you know for example that?
- Just under 20% of people in Ni live in relative poverty with income 60% less than the UK median income (May 2020)
- Just under 30% of children in NI live in poverty
- 16% of people approximately 303,000 people live in absolute poverty
As a family support charity, we are passionate about being alongside families at the earliest point of need, we care deeply about building strengths and connections within our community and we know that it is really tough to reach for the stars when you are howling at the moon with frustration or fear. So next time someone asks do you know what Bolster Community does , please tell them we do really good family support Oh and we make candles
Elvis……… King of Family Support
I often think of the cycle of despair and helplessness evident in the Elvis song “In the Ghetto” whilst we do not have ghettos thankfully in NI, we can certainly see a parallel cycle of underachievement and generations of children and families who experience poverty and poor quality of life. Similar indeed to the cycle of despair and destruction Elvis sings about.
We know that story well in NI, the children in the family who didn’t have much support or strong role models become the brunt of the school yard bullies and in turn they fight back becoming tomorrow’s agitators.
I recall a friend complaining about her son having to sit beside the “smelly boy in school”. What none of us knew was that that family were imploding.
Dad had recently left, mum was really struggling alone with three children, two were persistent bedwetters and her youngest had additional needs. Mum’s washing machine was broken, she could not afford to replace it and she could not handwash and dry her clothes due to bad weather and low credit on her electricity card. A perfect storm you might say! Some discrete behind the scene support to mum and a washing machine was delivered, some new uniforms bought, and a conversation had with the school where a spare uniform would remain in case of emergency’s during the day. Not rocket science, not very high on the referral scale, but mum felt listened too, the children got their dignity back and the little boy and his sister were given a chance to learn at school rather than make excuses to hide in shame.
We know to of the many instances of families struggling to make ends meet, the mums and dads with not enough food, not enough heat, no access to transport. We know others so traumatised by grief and sorrow and addiction that the routine of family life is both a refuge and an obstacle to overcome daily.
Whilst we do not have ghettos, we do have all of the other themes of health inequality, where you are born and to whom has big impact on who you become in the future.
Life can be tough and we know that children and families impacted by poverty are more likely to develop mental health problems, we know also from our referrals for support that people with mental health problems may have more money problems. It’s hard to think Big, when living small! When you are living day to day, poverty strips away choice and sometimes poverty obliterates the future.
The “King” sings “The child needs a helping hand or he’ll grow to be an angry young man someday”
Living in NI we are very aware of the impact of legacy issues, we know for example that just under 40% of our people have suffered a distressful, upsetting trauma during the Troubles. Early Life, Familial Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have life long and generational consequences.
Against a recent backdrop of three years of political absenteeism, deepening chasms of political tribalism and helicopter politics, the most vulnerable and least supported families and communities have struggled to get by. Brexit looms like a dark shadow, casting more bureaucracy and limitations to potential.
- One in every six young people in NI has an eating disorder
- One in every ten young people deliberately harm themselves
- Young people here are 25% more likely to feel sad or extremely worried than those in England
- One in 8 children and young people in NI experience emotional difficulties
- One in 20 young people aged 11-19 display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or complex PTSD
- One in ten young people aged 11-19 reported having engaged in self-injurious behaviour and roughly 1 in 8 have thought about or attempted suicide
(Youth wellbeing prevalence survey HSCB 2020)
So, Family Support is a discrete specific agreement where our staff offer a helping hand to get ordinary people through extraordinary challenges. The families we help are often your neighbours and ours. The families we support are strong proud capable people and yet at some stage of an ordinary life an extraordinary challenge comes along, a collision of factors that make going it alone too treacherous.
When parents or children need help, asking for help and getting help are two stages in a journey of trust. One thing is clear no one agency or person has all the answers. Helping ordinary people through extra ordinary challenge takes huge resources, compassion & love and a belief that we can all reach our potential if given a hand out when needed!
So with respect lets go back to Elvis… the lyrics ask us
“People don’t you understand, the child needs a helping hand, or he`ll grow to be an angry young man someday,
Take a look at you and me, are we too blind to see, do we simply turn our heads and look the other way?”
Elvis, like Bolster is challenging us all to get the best help we can to the most vulnerable before they lose hope, before despair sets in before its too late and another young child is born into poverty and desperation.
Family Support – What Helps?
We need to respect & understand just how difficult it is to be a parent; we need also to be honest enough to acknowledge that everyone no matter the size of the house or garden can do with a helping hand. It’s okay to put a tea towel over the dishes until you feel able to clear up, it’s okay to run a bath and escape for an hour, it’s okay also to say, I’m not sure I can continue to manage all of these competing priorities and I need help!
Family support ranges from practical & emotional support, it can be helping a child or parent navigate difficult decisions and make changes, so they can cope better with anxiety or food, or relationships each family support ask is different.
Bolster Community coordinates the Newry and Mourne Family Support Hub, often we have upwards of 30 referrals a month, we are however blessed in this area to have a range of fantastic charities and agencies who form the family support hub.
At the moment our staff are working in families where Mum or Dad has cancer, our role is not medical, our role is to try and hold “normal” together so that the family can tick over on some fronts. That may mean cooking and shopping for the family, or taking children to school, or helping with the washing and ironing or it could be, taking children out for exercise or some free time.
Each family support assignment is tailored to the needs of the child or the family. In another home, our family support workers are supporting mum and a teen around setting and respecting boundaries, in another we are working with mum, dad and children to help sort out issues around drug and alcohol intake.
We absolutely love our work, we work well with our charities, social services & schools & CAMHS, GPS & nurses. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and where possible we encourage parents & children to “dig where they are at”, by that we mean make the best of the strengths within your family, be honest about the time available to make changes, and be open to accept resources and help to create positive impact & change.
We do need resources to value the role of community-based services and remember
” Children and society cannot benefit from services that do not exist”
We passionately believe in the strength of family, we look to tease out strengths and focus on the positive, often parents and children are so lost in the minutiae of their own life, time out to reflect and think with someone outside of the family can be a game changer.
One thing is crystal clear, the sum of the parts is much greater than the individual spokes of the wheel. We all as parents have tough choices to make, asking for help is tough, but going it alone is tougher!
So hopefully this series of Blogs has helped you understand what family support is, it’s basically what you need as a child or a parent to get you through a difficulty, so now you know, spread the word, Bolster provides good quality Family support! If you or someone you know has a parenting issue or is concerned about their child, lift the phone and have a chat to one of our family support workers on 02830835764 or download a referral form here.
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