Finding hope for the future

As the country faces continued restrictions on our daily lives, Children 1st Chief Executive Mary Glasgow reflects on finding and feeling hope through challenging times.

We’ve all heard the news. Lockdown is continuing. We don’t know for how long. For the children and families we work with this is an especially frightening and uncertain time, even though they know it’s necessary and have been brilliant at following the rules and complying with the restrictions. Our dedicated teams have been working flat out over the past few weeks, as we moved to remote and home working, creating a whole range of creative new ways to reach and support families.

So what I want to talk about in this blog is hope.

Because I think hope is the word I have used the most over the past few weeks. Every day I send an email message to my colleagues. I’m pretty sure that in just about every one I have said that I hoped they were doing OK, that I hoped their families and loved ones were safe. That I hoped the children we support were safe and well. Because for me, more than anything, at times of fear and uncertainty hope is the thing we all need to hold on to.

Hope is the basis for the positive relationships we have with each other as colleagues. Hope is what we hold with every family and every child we work alongside. When I think about hope I think about what’s happening beyond the immediate, because hope is always about the future. It’s about possibilities, what comes next, how we imagine a time when things will be better and how you build something stronger and new. Hope as an idea is implicitly optimistic and I believe humans, and especially children, are hardwired for optimism.

I know it is hard right now. Life is tough for so many people, and we have to acknowledge these feelings. We are hearing tragic, heartbreaking stories of fear, distress, bereavement and trauma, especially from people contacting Parentline. But we are also hearing stories of hope, of deeper connections with families who are reaching out for the first time, seeking support, looking for sources of safety and comfort. I have been so inspired by hearing from my colleagues across Children 1st in communities up and down the country. They tell me every day about how they are helping families emotionally and practically to cope through coronavirus and the impact of the restrictions. They are holding them in mind, offering care, love and above all hope.

Because one of the common factors in so many families we work with is that they may never have experienced safe, consistent relationships that continue whatever the pressure. Many of the children and parents we support have faced trauma within the very relationships that are supposed to keep them safe. Our relationship-based approach to supporting families means that we have always been committed to being there no matter what. With strong, trusting and warm relationships we convey a message, a sense of security and safety, a modelling of calm predictability. In this way we offer the hope of repair and recovery in relationships, through providing certainty of support even in the hardest of times.

I have heard a lot of people talk about how the world that comes out of coronavirus must look very different from the world that went in. A kinder world, more equal, just and fair. We all hope for that. Those most at risk are the poor, the very young, the very old, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the forgotten. They always have been. The coronavirus crisis offers the opportunity of a future where we really focus on what matters for and to everyone. But I think this pandemic has opened our eyes to what really mattered all along. That we prevent harm, create safety and promote recovery in safe relationships. I feel proud that when we wrote our strategic plan back in 2018 the things that made Children 1st different – our emphasis on relationships, our long-held understanding of trauma, a focus on rights, repair and recovery, being with families and not doing things to them – have held fast as we have supported children and families to cope with the huge upheaval of the past few weeks. Relationships are the key to keeping children and families safe, and they have continued to be at the heart of our response.

So, what does this mean for the next phase? Lockdown will come to an end. Maybe not quickly or completely, but the restrictions will ease. So what will we at Children 1st need to do? Every child and family, every community will have their own losses, their own gains and connections. They will have experienced this in their own way and will have their own stories to tell. So the first thing we must do is listen, and be led by what people want, not what we think they need. We need to be careful and not assume we have the answers. We will need to work with hope and be radical in our approaches to create new models of community, connection and safety for everyone.

No pretence – this is challenging for everyone, and even more challenging for some. Hope may seem far away at times, but you can still find and feel it if you look for it. In the end it will be this hope and the relationships we have that will help us all recover in the long term.