As our local communities continue to change, adapt and react to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, thousands and thousands of vulnerable families have reached a crisis point.
While there has been a much-warranted focus on the vulnerable and keyworkers, there is a forgotten section of society. This has come to the attention of Greater Manchester’s leading family support charity, Home-Start in Greater Manchester.
Across Greater Manchester 4 Home-Start charities work in local communities with families who are struggling to cope. This volunteer-led, frontline support is offered to families in their own homes for a wide range of reasons- poverty, poor mental health, isolation, domestic abuse, poor housing, illness and disability, family breakdown and families with a child on a Child Protection Plan.
In the last year alone, Home-Start in Greater Manchester supported over 4,000 families, either through direct home-visiting support or specialist projects. In the previous year, nearly 300 of these families needed help with their mental health, over 150 families needed help with managing conflict in the family home, almost 180 families needing assistance with coping with physical needs and nearly 250 families needing isolation support. These are families who due to the pandemic are struggling because their support from Home-Start has had to change.
Home-Start’s unique early intervention approach of supporting some of society’s most vulnerable families has had to change dramatically to recent government legislation. As the country continues to exercise its lockdown, some families can no longer access crucial emotional and practical home-visiting support from Home-Start’s army of volunteers. Each of the 4 Home-Start charities has reacted to this by switching to telephone help and online support, (where possible), and in more recent months walk and talk socially distanced support. Home-Start is also providing children with activity packs to keep them active and entertained, which are well-received. Still, for parents with low-level mental health issues, or physical disabilities or who are living in deprivation, they cannot cope. What they miss is the outstanding support of a Home-Start volunteer visiting them at home.
Shelley Roberts, CEO of Home-Start Manchester, said:
“It has been heartening to see the reaction of people responding to the call of the NHS for volunteers at the start of the pandemic- it shows you just how impactful it can be to offer a few free hours of your time to the most vulnerable. But this is nothing new to Home-Start, it’s what we have been doing in Greater Manchester for over 30 years, and nationally for almost 50 years. Our volunteers have a unique insight into the lives of families through home-visiting support, it’s a trusted and confidential relationship, and whilst telephone support is vital, we know that families are now in crisis.”
In many communities across Greater Manchester, Home-Starts are seeing the effect of COVID-19 on the lives of young families- they are running out of baby supplies, food. Home-Start support families in tower blocks, unable to leave home and to deal with mounting pressures- anxiety, loneliness and depression kicks in. Then there are the families in refuges, destitute asylum-seeking families, and the list goes on.
In Trafford, Home-Start Trafford, Salford and Wigan support Derek, a single dad with a child at primary school. He is self-isolating due to complex health needs. He said: “I don’t know what I am going to do? I can’t let my child starve, I know they are looking after my health, but my child comes first.”
Home-Start has stepped in and provided a food parcel, as this dad is struggling financially too. The worry is that things will become increasingly difficult for this dad and his child, they live in a one-bedroom flat with no garden.
The impact on people’s mental health is something that Home-Start wants to see raised at a national level because people are suffering. People like Emma. Emma is mum to four children and lives with her partner in Manchester. She has been receiving Home-Start support for practical and emotional reasons.
“I struggle with my mental health, from anxiety and feelings of stress to full-on feelings of falling to pieces. I was facing a breakdown, and I recently spent time in Crisis Point – a short term residential unit for adults who suffer mental distress. I had hit rock bottom and had suicidal thoughts. To come through that and now face this current crisis- it worries me. I do not want to go downhill again. I am trying to keep things together for the sake of my children. But I fear, I worry about home-schooling, about my little girl’s health, (she has chest problems and is often in hospital), and I worry about finances. My partner is self-employed, but we fall into the category where he has not been trading long enough, so we are not entitled to government help.
“We are living off savings, but that will only last so long. I was getting myself together before this, but it is a trigger – I am paranoid and overthinking. I am worried about germs. My biggest concern is that if I were to hit rock bottom again, would I get treated? What’s happening about mental health services during this crisis?”
Donna Arden-McKenna, CEO of Home-Start Rochdale and Bury said:
“Our worry for families is two-fold. We are apprehensive for those families who were already in crisis before Covid-19 took hold, be that through poverty, poor mental health or fleeing domestic abuse. We are also worried about families who were already isolated and now, increasingly isolated. We must remember that in 2020, not every family has a family support network nearby, we support many families where this is the case.”
The aftermath of COVID-19 will not be known for some time, but it is something that Home-Start in Greater Manchester is keen to address.
Kathryn Eckersley, CEO of Home-Start Trafford, Salford and Wigan said:
“In time to come, when our country is through the worst of this crisis, we need to be mindful of the legacy that it will have created. Yes, we will have created a wonderful sense of community spirit-in the hardest of times; however, please let us not forget about those whose lives will take much longer to get back on track. We will have families who have suffered the most harrowing of poor mental health experiences. We will have families who will have lost their incomes, and we may even have families suffering bereavement because of COVID-19, and Home-Start will be here to pick up the pieces. But we know, that like many other sectors, the charity sector is hit hard too, and we urge the government to invest funding, when the time is right, back into the frontline services who are going to have to get these forgotten families back on track.”
Sarah Cook, CEO of Home-Start HOST, said:
“We are concerned that the community spirit that has been so prevalent in recent months, will dip as people become fatigued, but now more than ever, we need local people to come forward and offer support. We are in unprecedented times, and we can see a huge increase in isolation and anxiety in the months and years ahead. We’d urge anyone that would like to offer some voluntary support across Greater Manchester to consider Home-Start.”
During UK Charity Week, Home-Start urges that charities who are offering frontline and crucial support receive investment and support themselves in the most difficult of years.