The end of lockdown is often referred to as 'light at the end of the tunnel'. A light that has often felt tantalisingly close, only to recede once again into the distance. Lockdown has undoubtedly been a time for the dark corners to grow — so much more has gone unseen and unheard. It's been easy for families to hide behind closed home doors, for parents to paint on a pixilated smile on a Zoom call in the face of domestic violence, empty food cupboards or mounting debt.
In these situations, it is often the needs of vulnerable children that go unmet, because they are so much harder to identify. The trauma of these hidden months brings with it a long Covid of a different sort for children and families across the UK. The Children's Commissioner Childhood Vulnerability in 2019 report shows there are over two million children in England living in families with substantial complex needs, with 1.6 million children having no established, recognised form of additional support. Another report reveals that even before Covid, child poverty in England was increasing, placing additional strains on family life and on children, seriously impacting children's development and life chances.
At Spurgeons children charity, inspired by our Christian faith, it is our mission to see children find a hope-filled future, to grow and flourish and reach their full potential. By being child-centred in our work, we recognise the importance of focusing on their greatest place of influence – their home life. It is a vision that has perhaps never been more needed.
As restrictions lift and our services reopen, we are already starting to see the emergence of the deeper, longer term impact on children and young people's social development and mental wellbeing. The issues have intensified with the 'stay home' mandate, making identifying and assessing children's needs much harder. The community created by support group meetings was a vital part of how many coped, and how they felt less alone.
Whether they were young carers, struggling parents or suffering children, these communities and relationships are essential. For example, many women who have young children or who have given birth in lockdown, have been unable to socialise as they would have done otherwise. In our work supporting fathers in prison, we recently saw a young girl who had never met her father become inconsolable due to the shock and fear of being amongst so many people in the prison environment for the first time.
Our years of experience working with children and families has taught us that you can't always take a situation at face value. Families are complex, and our staff are highly experienced in picking up the nuances in tone and body language that speak volumes about what is going on below the surface. It has been one of the biggest challenges of working online. It is often only through working with one of the Spurgeons team, when they feel safe and heard, that the issues and the pain that has been pent up begins to emerge.
During lockdown, we kept a physical presence in as many communities as we could through our children's centres as a first point of contact. Through determination and commitment, we had close to 7,000 Covid safe face-to-face meetings with families during the course of the pandemic, but we are all too aware of the ever-growing needs within communities and homes. We need to work together to overcome the immense challenges that the pandemic has either created or exacerbated - which is why we are so excited about the recent announcement that Spurgeons is acquiring Fegans.
Fegans share our heart for children and bring a wealth of expertise and connections that will make us stronger and more effective as one charity. In providing counselling for children and support, and training for parents through their network of schools and pre-schools, Fegans will expand our network and expertise, offering immense potential to build on the work of both charities.
We recognise and value the rich heritage shared by Spurgeons and Fegans. Both organisations were formed by men of faith 150 years ago, wanting to share the love of Jesus in a very practical way to help provide for vulnerable children. That same vision lives on today as we join forces to make a greater impact on a greater need. We share an ambition to grow support for children facing significant challenges across the UK, modelling and reflecting our Christian faith through the work we do with children and families. Being able to shine brightly as a Christian children's charity draws on the prayers and giving of thousands of faithful supporters across the country.
Faced with the darkness that is coming to light as we draw close to the end of lockdown, it is easy to feel hopeless and helpless ourselves. But now is not a time to feel paralysed into inaction. Light is powerful. Did you know that the human eye can see a candle in pitch black from between 1.6 and 30miles away? The scriptures illuminate this truth in John 1:5 where it says, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
If you are looking at the long-term impact of the pandemic with concern and compassion, you are not alone. Work is underway. We are training our staff to look after their own mental health needs, become mental health first aiders, and equipping them to signpost others. We are pooling the knowledge and resources of Fegans and Spurgeons and considering how we can equip and empower others to go out into their communities. We see partnerships with churches as an integral part of who we are and how we want to work.
At Spurgeons we do not underestimate the scale of the work, but we do believe in transformation. We belief that even a shard of light in the darkness is worth fighting for and as we work together, we begin to see that light expand and break through.
Ross Hendry is the CEO of the Spurgeons Children's Charity. Being able to shine brightly as a Christian children's charity draws on the prayers and giving of thousands of faithful supporters across the country. To find out how you can support or partner with Spurgeons in their mission, go to www.spurgeons.org