Staff and volunteers in our East Surrey centre have been going the extra mile – sometimes literally – to find creative ways to engage safely with service users this summer, and continue their work while adhering to the restrictions of social distancing.
Family Support Worker Cathy Kershaw has been conducting family visits everywhere from gardens to local beauty spots, helping parents and children alike to engage with nature, and adapting to meet the ever changing needs of families in lockdown. Families struggling without their regular routine or structure have been seeing more behavioural issues with young children, with parents without support groups left feeling frustrated and isolated in turn. In some cases, ongoing family work needed to be put on hold in order to address newer, more immediate problems arising from the stresses and strains of lockdown. Isolation, anxiety and frustration have been common themes from many service users.
“In some cases it’s been more about getting through the day.”
“When lockdown began,” says Cathy, “we originally continued to deliver services over the phone or by video calls. This didn’t work well for everyone, and it made it particularly difficult to interact with the children of these families.” Once restrictions began to lift, and meeting in outside areas was allowed, Cathy found creative ways to get back that invaluable face-to-face contact with families. First in gardens, then walks in local parks, Cathy brought in elements of her Forest School training to find fun ways to engage the children she works with.
“We’ve done activities like leaf identification, bark rubbing, mud kitchens, bug hunts, outdoor art…”
For families with younger children, or children with conditions like ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder, walking and talking, and directing attention towards activities not only frees up parents to open up more, but also lets the children’s personalities come through in a way they perhaps wouldn’t in a more formal environment.
Getting people out into nature, and even a bit of gentle exercise can go such a long way in boosting people’s mental health, particularly after an intense period of lockdown. “I love being outside, so I’ve been so grateful to have this routine for myself too,” says Cathy. “I take along a selection of ideas for activities and a lot of the time the children will direct what they want to do. So much of what we’re doing is about giving parents the confidence to go out and try new things – learning in a way which doesn’t feel like a chore.”
Cathy is hoping to continue to incorporate walking and talking into ongoing work as staff and service users settle into a new normality and pick up more structured work once again.
Volunteer and former Family Support Worker Lois has been equally creative in running baby massage classes for new mums in the Redhill area. Offering this service for free, Lois has been running sessions for a group of mums and babies, first over video call, and then at a local meet-up in the park. This was eagerly attended by the group of new mums, most of whom had been deprived of all other social interaction since the birth of their babies this year.
“They’ve missed out on all of the usual rites of passage”
Most mum and baby groups, and even routine trips out for regular weigh-ins for new babies have been postponed this year during lockdown, so new mums are feeling frustrated and isolated, at a really vulnerable time. The baby massage classes, run by Lois who has over 9 years of experience, offer mums a great chance not only to bond with their babies, but to bond and share their tips, worries and frustrations with one another.
“We had two babies in the group who were both profoundly deaf. It was lovely to be able to facilitate a connection between the two mothers and these babies, as they share many of the same specific experiences, and can both use touch as a key sense through which to connect with their babies.”
To learn more about our East Surrey Centre, click here.