How we delivered disability and family support in Wales during the pandemic
Judith Kirkby, Children's Services Manager, reflects on a turbulent year for the disability and family support services she manages across South East Wales
Day to day working life has been so intense over the last year that it’s only when you step back does it really hit you how extreme the impact of Covid-19 has been. Humans are very resilient and adaptable, and you very much get on with what is put in front of you.
That said, we support families who were already vulnerable and have been hit with disproportionate force by the pandemic. So, our first urgent priority was to ensure we could carry on delivering our services despite not being able to meet face-to-face.
Like the rest of the country, we resorted to Teams sessions, constant phone contact and collecting shopping for single parents with disabled children.
Action for Children launched an emergency fund for help with food, heating and essential household items and we would deliver these ourselves and check in with families as we did.
The issues we’ve noted during this time have been alarming. Some families have shown resilience and developed a routine around their day, but many others haven’t, and problems have escalated. There's been behavioural issues from kids who suffered sleep deprivation and anxiety and there’s also been changes in behaviour from parents too with some relying more on alcohol, for example.
With some families, it feels like a massive dam is about to burst. Kids are being kept behind closed doors but referrals and demand for help and support are going through the roof.
The pandemic has opened up fault lines in families as they’ve been forced to spend more time with each other under the severest of pressure. With some families, it feels like a massive dam is about to burst. Kids are being kept behind closed doors but referrals and demand for help and support are going through the roof.
We are concerned that children won’t be able to catch up with their education and that children with additional needs have regressed in terms of their social skills as they have been confined to their screens. We also fear some families will never fully recover from the issues Covid-19 has made worse.
All of which means how we reacted to the pandemic and the support we provide and how we have dovetailed with our partners in health and social services has been critical.
I’m very proud of the way my teams have adapted and gone the extra mile for our families over the last year.
I’m very proud of the way my teams have adapted and gone the extra mile for our families over the last year. It’s been exhausting and relentless, but they’ve kept going with remarkably little complaint and despite the issues I’ve highlighted, our families have responded really well too.
As we begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel, helping the families we support is more important than ever. They will emerge facing their new normal in a more vulnerable position than most. Employment prospects will be reduced, income will be lower, mental health will have deteriorated in many cases and some family relationships will need rebuilding.
There needs to be a realisation of these issues at all levels of government, and I really hope mental health recovery is a priority across the board as we look to rebuild and renew after this vicious pandemic.
I really hope mental health recovery is a priority across the board as we look to rebuild and renew after this vicious pandemic.
We are all looking forward to the situation easing and some semblance of normality returning but the hard work is only just beginning for the children and families we proudly support.
Whatever happens, our families can rely on Action for Children to do whatever it takes to help them reach the other side of this extraordinary global health emergency.
We will be there every step of the way.
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