Before coronavirus Maisie*’s life with a violent child was already incredibly difficult… with lockdown enforced, it’s unbearable.

For many families life just sucks. They have been dealt an unfortunate hand and due to circumstance and happenchance they just seem to go from one crisis and disappointment to another. This is the usual story for many families we support at Family Gateway and by and large we can work with them over time to develop resilience and move them and their children forward into more fulfilling lives.

This was the case for many of the 181 families we were supporting in the early part of 2020. They were struggling with multiple and complex issues, not engaging with the support services and agencies there to provide specialist help and were simply lost and stuck.

For many we were making great progress, building confidence, resolving issues, improving children’s school attendance and conduct, and moving parents towards employability.

Then the coronavirus struck and unbelievably within a few weeks life changed for all of us. Work stopped, we were placed in isolation and basic necessities became scarce. We struggled with the concept of no cappuccinos, no Friday nights at the pub, no nice meals out, no seeing friends and family during lockdown. Life was tough.

However for Maisie* and her family life was already incredibly difficult, it just became a different version…

Maisie is 32* years old and has six children; one of her boys, Mark*, suffers Autism, ADHD and ODD. Having had a long and very severe history of abuse Maisie was relocated to the North East after fleeing domestic violence. Her mental health is not good and she suffers extreme anxiety and depression, very often feeling unable to cope. Her ‘me’ time was when the children were at school and she was able to take a breath and work with our Family Entrepreneur Jane* on dealing with her pressing issues, regaining confidence and working through coping strategies.

The childrens’ school attendance and behaviour were starting to improve – then COVID-19 hit and suddenly they were at home all day. Cramped conditions, little Mark’s destructive behaviour that stems from his Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, and mum’s fragile mental health quickly turned home into a pressure cooker environment. Sibling tensions and fights are now the order of the day with violence, constant bickering and concerning aggressive language by Mark causing such concern that the Family Entrepreneur has made two calls into safeguarding in two weeks. Mum is being physically abused by Mark and the other children feel they are ‘treading on eggshells’ which in turn is impacting them emotionally.

The family are really poor. Maisie has no time to shop and the constant pressure of trying to feed six children is putting massive strain on her already fragile mental health; they’d normally enjoy a hot school meal through the week which meant that an evening snack was often enough for Maisie to have to offer. Now Maisie has to feed them every day and doesn’t have the energy, skills or resources to replicate the nutritious school dinner.

Not being able to physically visit the family because of social distancing is limiting the type of support that the Family Entrepreneur is able to offer, however a creative approach has been developed to help Maisie and the children, particularly Mark. He has a fascination for trains and Jane has developed a range of games, exercises and fun information to keep him occupied and interested. This is giving Maisie and the other children space and time to deal with their own plans and conflict; as a result, tension and aggression in the household is gradually reducing.

In addition the family are receiving home-cooked meals for the whole family three times per week, cooked by our amazing team at our Howdelicious Café, delivered to the door and packed with protein and vegetables. This is possible thanks to generous donations to our charity.

This will be a long journey for the family but the daily (sometimes 3-4 times) calls and FaceTime chats between Jane, Maisie and the children are providing a focus as well as a trusted listening ear. The home cooked meals are providing nutrition, a welfare check on delivery and a break for Mum, and activity packs, exercises and games are keeping the whole family entertained as much as possible.

COVID-19 is really tough for everyone, but next time we complain about missing that cappuccino and night out in town, maybe we should count our blessings and remember that for so many families and children life has been tough for years, it just got a little bit more unbearable and when COVID-19 has passed it will continue to be tough.

*All names, ages, locations and dates in this case study have been changed for anonymity.

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