Supporting families and keeping the ‘sparkle’ in lockdown

Supporting families and keeping the ‘sparkle’ in lockdown

When I was asked to write this Blog, I knew immediately that I wanted to write about families and how we support them at Co-op Academy Delius. First I want to write about my own family as never before has my work and family life been so interconnected.

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During the initial phase of Lockdown, my little boy Frankie was deemed as being within the vulnerable category due to his asthma which had actually become more severe at exactly the time of schools ‘closing’. This meant that working from home was the safest option for my family. My husband took first ‘dibs’ on the dining room table, so I have used the playroom and my living room as my office spaces, depending upon the best wifi on that day!

On the first day of Lockdown, the teacher in me, created a lovely timetable for Frankie with a breadth of learning. A mixture of child-led play with some adult input and of course there were lots of opportunities to play both inside and out. There was of course, no mention of TV. I look back and smile at that memory of my naive self.

In reality it was a very different experience. My very chatty and inquisitive child did not fancy playing by himself very much. There was constant repetition of “will you play with me?”. Triggering lots of guilt from both of us. Between my husband and I, we worked out how to give each other focused working time, whilst also doing lots of activities which kept Frankie amused for longer periods of time. With the nature of my role, some days were spent entirely on Hangouts which left me feeling exhausted and lacking as a Mother.

We also had some really amusing moments, like when Frankie announced he needed a poo, whilst I was having a very serious conversation with a social worker. When he asked “do all animals have willies?” just as my audio connected to a Hangout! We’ve also had some sweet moments when I held him in my arms, asleep for an entire Senior Leadership Hangout as he was not sleeping very well due to his asthma.

Of course at the beginning of this Global Pandemic, there were moments where I am not ashamed to say, I felt real fear and panic about the safety and health of my child. Where the future seemed really uncertain.

As I write this, news has broken today that pubs will be reopening, if we choose to, we can sleepover at another household and we can have a haircut! Life feels like it’s beginning to move on.

However, this is not the same reality for all of us. This extract of a Poem by Damien Barr, sums this time up, perfectly:

I heard that we are all in the same boat.
But it’s not that.
We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.

At Co-op Academy Delius, all of our pupils have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Some of our pupils have such complex medical needs that they receive Palliative Care. Due to how medically vulnerable some of these children are, their families face daily challenges. Some of us had a glimpse of this during this time; social isolation; having a reduced support network ; managing bereavement discussions with their children; not being able to leave the house; and of course the prospect of a poorly child.

Over the years, I have focused a great deal of my work providing support for these families. We started with the introduction of Home Tuition, to ensure that our Palliative children were still accessing some stimulating activities and interaction from someone other than their family. Quickly, we realised that the parents relished these sessions and would often want to have a long chat with the Home Tuition Team.

These relationships supported the times when the children were having a period of time when they were well enough to come into school. Often parents would bring their children into school themselves to join in with our stay and play sessions.

I became involved with the Yorkshire and Humber Palliative Care Network and started to have lengthy conversations with Dani Lewis, a Clinical Nurse Specialist, from Martin House, children’s Hospice. It became clear that for a lot of our families accessing the facilities at Martin House was difficult, due to the distance of the hospice to Bradford (around 40 minutes away). We talked about creating the nurturing feel of a hospice but within the school community.

This is when the idea of the Sparkle Suite was born. The Sparkle Suite is a completely unique facility which was launched by Bradford Lord Mayor in September 2019. We have now provided a space for families to come to meet each other and to have access to Martin House clinical support for things such as symptom management.

Prior to lockdown, our official ‘Sparkle Days’ took place each Wednesday. A programme of events was created, involving visits from Child Bereavement UK, memory making art sessions and the Sparkle Suite Retreat. The Retreat is a family massage session, led by complementary therapists. After the child-parent session, each parent then had their own massage, taking into account their own personal needs. We had also started having weekly visits from Eric the Therapy dog and had just launched our Superhero Siblings group with a Play Specialist, who works with families within the community particularly focusing around supporting siblings with themes such as illness and bereavement.

The Sparkle Suite had started to become a place for our families to access and feel comfortable. Discussions between parents were flowing and they were finding support in each other and their shared experiences. One child had a really gradual phase back into school via the Sparkle Suite, as her Mum would spend the morning in the facility with her and then settled her into class for the afternoon, if she felt she was well enough to.

Professionally for me, one of the most worrying and disheartening times of the COVID-19 outbreak has been thinking once more the children and their families were ‘staying home’. We have done a great deal for all of our families during this time. Lots of phone calls, door stepping and food deliveries, the relationships that we have continued to nurture have remained strong.

As I write this, I’m once more reflecting upon the aspects of Lockdown for myself as a parent I found challenging. I think about how lucky I was that my main concerns were about things that really didn’t matter too much, or as it turned out were short-term. I now think about this in relation to these wonderful (often single-parent) families and I can’t begin to imagine how different their experience must have been. I say it to my families all the time, but really they are superheroes!

Prior to Covid-19, plans for the Sparkle Suite were to extend the offer for families, we were starting to pull together some large fundraising bids to continue to provide even more support for our families. So we can’t wait to carry on with our Sparkling journey!

You can find out more about our Sparkle Suite on our website.