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Dylan’s Story

A referral was made to Welcare by the local Early Help Service for support for Dylan and his mother, Melissa, who has a diagnosis of anxiety and depression. School reported ongoing concerns in relation to Dylan’s punctuality and attendance and it had been suggested that this was related to Melissa’s mental health impacting her ability to manage the morning routine.

A referral was made to Welcare by the local Early Help Service for support for Dylan and his mother, Melissa, who has a diagnosis of anxiety and depression. School reported ongoing concerns in relation to Dylan’s punctuality and attendance and it had been suggested that this was related to Melissa’s mental health impacting her ability to manage the morning routine. In addition to this, school reported that when he did come in late or return from a period of absence, Dylan would appear anxious and withdrawn, thereby raising concerns for his emotional wellbeing. Melissa was also struggling with debt at the time which was impacting on the stress of everyday life.

There were some important areas of practical support to address with the family, including supporting Melissa with her parenting, supporting her to access the appropriate benefits, and purchasing a new bed for Dylan.  However, what had the greatest impact for Melissa was the emotional support she received as part of the intervention. It was not known at the time of referral that Melissa had experienced significant adversity and trauma in her own life. At 15, she was made homeless after the relationship with her mother had broken down. Her young adult life was spent in temporary, unstable accommodation. This had a lasting impact on her mental health, disrupted her relationships with caregivers and negatively affected her education and employment prospects. At the beginning of the intervention, Melissa had recently been diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression and was supported with medication whilst she while awaiting access to therapy. Melissa reported being overwhelmed with the day-to-day challenges of parenting and was experiencing bouts of anxiety attacks and not sleeping.

In addition to Melissa’s own mental health struggles, Dylan had missed a huge amount of school in year 3 due to persistent health issues. Now in year 4, direct work with Dylan and feedback from school staff indicated that he was displaying anxiety around school and lacked confidence in the classroom and in forming friendships. This was compounded by the fact that Dylan had been exposed to his mother’s low mood and anxiety attacks at home.

A priority for the intervention was to support Dylan to build his confidence around school and explore extra-curricular activities for him to develop his self-esteem and social skills.

The initial priority of the intervention was to stabilise the home environment and family routine. At the beginning of our work, Dylan was sharing a room with his mother, after the flat had flooded and damaged his bedroom. Melissa was struggling financially and couldn’t afford to replace the bed. Welcare was able to apply for emergency funding to purchase Dylan a new bed. This gave him his own space and independence in the home environment. It also helped settle his sleeping routine, as previously he had been sharing a bed with his mother. Furthermore, it helped Melissa to better manage her own sleeping pattern which was disrupted due to her anxiety.

Now that Dylan had his own space, Welcare was able to work with the family to create a structured weekly timetable at home. Welcare supported Melissa to attend meetings with the school attendance officer. Melissa had previously found these meetings to be an uncomfortable and punitive process having been brought to a court panel when Dylan was in year 3. We were able to advocate for a more child centered and trauma informed approach to the issue of punctuality and attendance. The school was consequently more understanding in their approach, which helped restore Melissa’s trust in professionals and reduce her anxiety. On days when Melissa was struggling, she began to feel more confident in her ability to communicate with school which began to respond with more compassion and offer Dylan enhanced support in school.

Welcare also helped Melissa to understand the benefits available to her. With the help of her GP, Melissa was successful in her applications for PIP and Capability to Work benefits. This helped alleviate some of the financial strain and she was able to reduce her debt.

The intervention helped identify that Dylan was missing out on the opportunity to establish his own relationship with his father and primary male role model in his life. In direct work with the family support worker, Dylan expressed that he wanted to spend more time with his father in a one-to-one capacity yet didn’t feel able to tell his mother as he did not want to add to her stress. Due to his father’s work commitments, he was only able to visit him at home. The feedback shared by Dylan with the family support worker enabled parents to find solutions to this and Dylan then began having more meaningful contact with his father.

The family’s support network was concerned about the impact on Dylan’s emotional wellbeing and development as a result of missing out on a period of his education and being an only child of a parent with mental health difficulties. Welcare was able to secure a place for Dylan with the ‘Wave Project’, a six-week surf therapy programme. The aim of this programme is to help children feel more confident about taking on different challenges and to learn to overcome worries and anxieties. Dylan was matched with a mentor to support his wellbeing and build his confidence throughout the programme.

At beginning of attending The Wave Project, Dylan was energetic and excited to learn a new skill, albeit apprehensive. Having come to the end of the programme, Melissa noticed a marked change in the confidence and sense of independence that the course had given him. He now has wider aspirations to try other activities he previously would not have attempted.

The Wave Project coordinator shared, “It was such a pleasure having Dylan in the group. It was brilliant to see him become so confident in the water after initially sharing his nervousness about getting in. It was also brilliant to see him develop a great friendship with another group member.”

As the intervention progressed, Dylan began to take more pride in his responsibilities at home and independence with his routine. His punctuality and attendance improved at school, as did his relationship with school overall.

In light of the extent of the mental health challenges that Melissa was dealing with, it would have been easy to feel that the opportunity to influence positive change for this family would be limited without a specialist therapeutic intervention from mental health services. This case is a reminder of the difference that we can make in the lives of families by being person centered and creative in our approach, as well as the power of being a listening ear and a supportive voice for our families when in need.

At the time of closure, Melissa reported that she had gone from “not coping at all” to feeling “completely listened to and understood and received appropriate help to address some of my challenges”.

Melissa also reported, “The intervention gave me the confidence to think about the changes I needed to make and find ways to apply them. I am more mindful of my son’s emotions, of how my mental health impacts on my son and I now know how to check in with him and talk to him about his emotions. I could see the difference in Dylan when I began to feel better, in his motivation to go to school and how he is learning to open up about his feelings.”

 

*All names have been changed and stock images used

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