Delivering love in the time of coronavirus

Maggie from Children 1st’s Family Wellbeing service is delivering love and emotional support, as well as practical help, to children and families during lockdown.

Dropping off shopping sounds like the purely practical side of what our Family Wellbeing Service offers across East Renfrewshire. At Children 1st we’ve always believed that offering practical help is what begins to build trust. It’s this trust that supports families to explore their challenges and find the strength to move past their difficulties, so that their children are happier and safer.

What I’ve found, in this time of coronavirus, is that delivering shopping helps us to deliver trust, and love. What happens on the doorstep, during a shopping delivery can be crucial for the families we work with.

Seven weeks ago Sammy warned me that she was already wound up, stressed about celebrating her daughter Ellie’s birthday under lockdown. Ellie was also anxious about it, worrying her Mum might get unwell again and her birthday would be cancelled. Life for Sammy is a battlefield of old scars and new conflicts. Her whole being is a warzone of threat and toxic stress. She told me: “I feel primed to batter someone all the time. I don’t know why anyone would bother with me, I’m a waste of space.”

Working alongside Sammy we’ve unravelled a knot of financial difficulties, fuel poverty, family feuds, trauma and loss in her life. Ellie wasn’t sleeping worrying about what might go wrong and if her Mum could cope.

Working alongside Sammy we have taken the time to discover some amazing things - that Sammy loves cleaning, baking and drawing. She used to win prizes for athletics and loves Ellie and her nephews and nieces to bits. Using Sammy’s flair for drawing and baking, we helped her plan a birthday to remember for Ellie.

But when I arrived to drop off shopping on the big day, Sammy was seriously upset. Her violent father, who she no longer sees, turned up at the same time as me with a card for his granddaughter. Then he left, leaving Sammy in bits. In that moment, asking her to share what was happening wasn’t going to work. Before we could do anything she needed to take a breath. Surrounded by bags of shopping, door open to the world, I helped Sammy understand she was having a panic attack. Right there on her kitchen doorstep, with birthday banners flapping, we started some breathing and grounding activities.

Once I would have spent time debating the whys and hows of such “an intervention.” I might have explored what stage the relationship was at, double-checked the most recent case recording and chronology. I might have questioned my own ability to do this, whether it was even in my remit. Should we source funding for mindfulness or yoga? In the midst of a pandemic being less process-driven brings its own clarity.

So there we sat – two metres apart, eyes shut, on a doorstep in Barrhead with the bin men, postie and neighbours doing their own thing – and we took a breath!

For me, this moment symbolises Children 1st’s faith in the power of compassionate connection. It sums up the value of reacting thoughtfully to someone’s immediate distress. The media and funders often want to hear how we bridge gaps in poverty – how many loaves of bread and tins of soup have been donated and distributed – I’m in no doubt that on that day, Sammy wasn’t thinking about what was in her foodbank parcel. Ellie wasn’t thinking about her presents. What they wanted was compassion, safety and warmth. And, as part of Children 1st, I was able to offer exactly that.

Sammy says: “I feel like a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders, after Maggie’s been. So does Ellie. She says she doesn’t worry so much now because there’s someone else to make sure I'm alright mentally as well as physically. She feels proud of me that we gave her a decent birthday this year.”

Of course, we can quantify our response to poverty in terms of financial and practical support, but retelling stories of people’s poverty of experience is vital. Sammy has rarely experienced nurture and care, and that makes it so much harder for her to give that to Ellie. On that doorstep in Barrhead Sammy and I discovered that, even in a crisis, it is possible to create a sense of emotional safety. And that it’s equally as important as practical help. It’s what helps parents like Sammy to repair, recover and give their children the nurture and care that they themselves rarely experienced when they were a child.