Deidre Sanders, Sun Agony Aunt & Family Lives Patron joined a Family Lives mums’ group to see what a difference the charity’s work can make.
A young mum who’s had the police round that morning interviewing her about her partner’s violence runs from the room in tears, overwhelmed with emotion. Another mum who’s come through a violent relationship quickly follows to comfort her, but there’s no general fuss and panic. After a few minutes they’re sitting down quietly again, and half an hour later they are happily discussing with the group how to cope with three year olds who refuse to wear any of their clothes because they are too scratchy, lumpy or have itchy labels on.
This is the Wednesday morning mums’ group at Fairlands Primary School in a deprived area of Stevenage, Herts, which is among the bottom four per cent nationally with 82 per cent of the children rated as significantly below age-related expectations, and 20 per cent recorded as having witnessed or experienced some sort of abuse. Just before we leave at the end of our two-hour session the first mum says she feels much more positive now – though it turns out to have been only the second time she’s come along, having only recently come out of a refuge.
What is wonderful about this Family Lives weekly parenting group – this course is called ‘Stop The Strop’ – is that it is all-accepting. “We laugh a lot and we cry a lot in here,” says the facilitator Sara Hassell. It’s a privilege to be treated as one of their number for my visit, and reminds me all over again why I am so proud to be a patron of the charity.
Their children all benefit from having parents who don’t so easily get sucked into shouting, slapping or giving up, who have been skilled-up to cope with family life calmly and effectively, who can give their children the sort of stable framework that helps them grow up into responsible members of society.
“Nowadays I feel like a proper mum,” said one, I think speaking for them all.
Sara Hassell, 49, the course leader is a mother of three aged 23, 21 and 16, and recently became a grandmother. “I trained as a nursery nurse and then worked as a play therapist in a child and family psychiatric unit,” she says. Eight years ago Sara volunteered for Family Lives working on the 24 hour helpline and then training as a facilitator. At Fairlands - the only school in the country with a Family Lives worker attached - she says she has the ‘dream job’.
“I do one-to-one work with mothers and fathers, sometimes face to face and sometimes over the phone, with teachers and other school staff about their relationships with their own children, couple work, mediating between feuding parents and between angry parents and the school”, she explains. “I run a Friday coffee morning open to all parents. I see around 25 parents during the 14 hours I work here each week. It’s fantastic to have this opportunity.”
Rob Staples, 39, the school’s headteacher, says, “Sara’s work here costs the school £20,000 a year and I see it as a good use of that money. Her early intervention means we can all talk together more calmly. Resources in social care are getting so tight. A lot of problems are now cascading down to schools. Sara’s work here for Family Lives is invaluable.”
The Sun backs family life – can you help?
Family Lives is a major charity providing support to parents or any concerned adult family members – grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings.
Please will YOU volunteer to join Family Lives and help struggling families. You might help staff the helpline, respond to problems online, or get involved with face-to-face support. Whatever your role, you will receive invaluable training – which all volunteers agree will help in your own life and relationships too. To volunteer: visit http://familylives.org.uk/one-million-families, phone 020 7553 3080 or email email@example.com
If you can’t afford to give any time – maybe you are already combining a full-time job with being a parent yourself – please can you spare some cash? Training this new army of volunteers will demand finance and every penny counts. To donate, go to http://familylives.org.uk/donating/ or send a cheque to Family Lives, CAN Mezzanine, 49-51 East Road, London N1 6AH.
Together we really can make a difference.
Problem Page Editor at The Sun