In the midst of Monday's 'freedom day' chaos we are reminded of the uncertainty and last minute change that have characterised the last year for children around the country.
Despite the reports that over a million pupils are off school in England because of Covid, there is the promise that children may soon no longer have to self-isolate - another step, edging closer to getting back to 'normal'.
But have we stopped to think if a return to 'normal' is what children really need? The 'new normal' has become an incredibly tired phrase over the last 18 months, but for some children that it is the only 'normal' they have ever known. This is true for the very young, but also for early teens who are making the vulnerable and often uncomfortable transition to adulthood. They have only ever lived with the changes they have experienced within the context of lockdown.
At Fegans, it is something we have become acutely aware of in our pre-schools and as we provide counselling for older children and support for their parents.
For the children and young people that have lived through Covid, to throw them back into 'normal' would be like taking the stabilisers off their bike without teaching them to ride. Unfair and dangerous.
As a Christian charity, our mission to help shape a world where children are free to become everything God created them to be, has often seemed an overwhelming challenge. However, the picture has been far from uniform. For some pupils, school has been a lot less stressful this year; reduced exam pressure or dealing with the anxiety of social interactions, the endless comparison and expectations. Many have had the attention of their parents like never before.
Families that went into lockdown with healthy dynamics have often emerged closer and stronger. But, for other families, the difficulties and instability they were already experiencing have been hugely exacerbated. The spike in family breakdown and domestic violence has been a recurring news items. We speak about "rising thresholds" with children's mental health. The reality on the ground is that we are seeing a huge increase in both the number and the intensity of need; just this week there were two suicides in schools we work in.
Covid has been a destabilising time for all children and young people when reassurance and a sense of safety are crucial for children's development and mental wellbeing. Instead of providing the stability that children need, they have sometimes been met with panic from the adults they look to for reassurance.
This instability creates damage that is not going to be fixed quickly. This generation is going to need time to heal. I am not just talking about the serious, diagnosable or even mild cases of mental health. I am talking about the basic skills that they need to cope with the world, with social interaction, with the normal everyday pressures of life. They need to learn how to manage and control their emotions, so they don't escalate, and how to deal with conflict.
They need long-term infrastructure to support and guide them, and their parents, through the normal everyday stresses of life. This requires a proactive and holistic approach. We need to support families to provide a stable home life and help teach their kids to be resilient, as well as engage with them in a school context.
That is why we are so excited that Fegans is now part of Spurgeons Children's Charity (Spurgeons). The need to give the growing number of children a home life that allows them to flourish has never been greater. Most statutory mental health services are overwhelmed. Families in need that reach out are faced with bounce-back unless the welfare of the child is at risk.
As one charity with Spurgeons, we can better provide the long-term support we know children will need to ensure they have a home-life where they find the love, peace and safety that will give them a hope-filled future. In our work we have often drawn inspiration from the calling placed on John in Luke 1v17 to "turn the hearts of the parents to the children, demonstrate the wisdom of the righteous and do good to demonstrate the nature of our father in heaven."
The scale and strength that Spurgeons offers, combined with the agility and creativity of Fegans, will enable us to grow our support for children across the UK. Our different but complementary expertise and skill sets equip us to provide the long-term holistic care that children and young people need. Together we will be better equipped to show the hope and love of Jesus to children across the country.
This generation of children and young people are going to need stabilisers for longer than most. Their 'normal' is going to need to look a bit different. And that's ok. They have missed some crucial development time. The Covid pandemic has uncovered the heart of vulnerability. Vulnerability is the loss of hope. A darkness where you feel you have no dreams for the future and are unable to cope with the present. But for every child or young person whose life is transformed through the right counselling and support, there are others looking on and seeing the possibility of change. More children who have hope.
Ian Soars brought his 18 years' experience at Hays driving large contract design and delivery to Fegans as Chief Executive for over seven years. Now, as Fegans joins Spurgeons Children's Charity, he brings his expertise to the senior executive team. Ian is a trained parent support worker and focuses on how we can raise our children to be resilient and with good mental health. Outside of the world of parent support, Ian spends time with his wife and three teenage daughters, is learning to box and attends Kings Church in Eastbourne where he lives.