Supporting families to cope through coronavirus

Director of Children and Family Services, Linda Jardine, reflects on the changes the organisation has made to support families through lockdown, and the values that helped support that reaction.

It’s now a month since the start of lockdown, and it’s been one of the busiest of my professional career. Amidst the huge uncertainty when the scale of the pandemic became clear, my colleagues in the Children and Family Services team and I went back to our fundamental purpose at Children 1st – keeping children safe. As we entered an unprecedented global public crisis my first instinct was to make sure that we did everything we could to create a sense of safety and wellbeing for the children and families we support and our staff right across Scotland.

The families we work alongside inspire me every day with their positivity and strength. They face many challenges in the best of times and the news of the coronavirus outbreak added huge amounts of uncertainty and anxiety.

As lockdown was announced my teams’ concerns increased in so many areas. We were worried for the many children and adults who were already vulnerable and now at greater risk—not just from the lethal virus, but of being confined at home with a loss of the structures and supports that helped keep them safe. It was clear that our mission at Children 1st—to prevent harm to children by supporting families as much as possible, to heal and repair relationships and to help families to recover from trauma—was never going to be more needed.

Initially, our teams increased face-to-face contact, helping families prepare amidst the uncertainty as things changed daily and hourly.

We then moved swiftly to prioritise dropping off food and essential supplies at people’s doors and, just as importantly, having reassuring conversations as anxiety in families and communities grew. We made sure families had their basic needs met: food, hot meals, electricity and gas and lots of activities to keep the children going. We arranged taxis for parents to make sure they could get food at their local stores when they were no longer able to access public transport. We made sure families with no phones, tablets or computers got the things they needed quickly so that we could maintain our support and relationships and, crucially, see the children. Families told us this was a lifeline as they struggled to make ends meet and felt isolated and alone in the uncertainty.

Relationships are at the heart of all we do at Children 1st. As it became clear that it was safer for the children and families we work alongside—and our workers—to shift towards virtual, rather than face-to-face connections, our families and workers rose to this challenge without hesitation. While continuing to provide drop offs of essentials where necessary we are also now able to bring comfort, calm reassurance and a listening ear to all of our families either by phone or video call. This is sometimes to help families get their day started positively and sometimes to help with bedtime stories and the routine at the end of the day. In the hours in between, our practitioners bring a calm and reassuring presence as they beam into family living rooms, build dens with children, participate in tea-time zoom calls, have conversations to help reduce the building stress, provide comfort in moments of overwhelm for parents and carers, ease the distress of young people and help families to cope and get through the early days—and beyond.

We have worked with families to identify what is needed, and then moved quickly to respond to that need. I am proud that we are able to continue to run our national family support service, Parentline, from staff members’ homes rather than our call centre, and increase its capacity so that it is accessible to any parent or carer across Scotland who needs to talk, seven days of the week. We also created a brand new national Money Worries team that is contactable through Parentline—and within days were putting more money directly in families’ pockets. Families told us they were feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed and in the most difficult moments it helped to know that we were still there.

Throughout the crisis we have also worked hard at Children 1st to create the same sense of safety and wellbeing for our workforce that we are aiming to create for the children and families we are there for. We knew our colleagues were worried for their own families at home and were balancing home working with their commitment to the children and families of Scotland. We are checking in regularly with our valued colleagues and ensuring that they have time to reflect on their own needs and are supported throughout the coming days and weeks.

In the hurly burly of daily and hourly changes, of families losing loved ones and of all our daily work and family lives, I am reflecting on the way our lives—and those of the families we work alongside—have changed, possibly forever. Holding to the enduring purpose that is at the heart of our organisation has helped me to stay clear and calm in my thinking. Doing everything we reasonably can to protect children, to prevent harm by supporting families practically and emotionally and to help families know that relationships can be repaired was all that was needed for our committed team at Children 1st to rally in this national emergency. This is what inspired me to be decisive in action, confident in planning and strong in communication, for our workforce to feel a sense of safety and wellbeing too, as well as the children and families.

I have been overwhelmed – at the strength of families to do their level best for their children and the commitment of our team at Children 1st to be there for families throughout this crisis. Our strong value base and culture has meant whilst we have had to be apart, we have stayed close to families, responding with compassion and kindness when this has been most needed.