The Hidden Impact, of the Coronavirus Outbreak, on Special Needs Families

It is no underestimation to say these are unprecedented times! Who would have thought 2020 would bring the whole world a pandemic that would mean thousands of people contracting Covid-19 and many, heartbreakingly, losing their lives to this horrific virus!?

For the whole population, the rate at which Covid-19 has ripped across not only our country, but the globe, is beyond frightening and surreal!

It’s hard enough to comprehend as an adult, but imagine what that’s like for a child with additional needs? Many children who already suffer with extreme high levels of anxiety, those with a phobia of dying, those that NEED routine etc.

The reality of the world, as we knew it, is shutting down before our very eyes!

Firstly, the closing of pubs, theatres, cinemas and then social distancing rules implemented! Things appear to be changing very quickly!

Next, School Closures

School closures were announced as of the 20th March, all schools that was apart from those which have students with an EHCP or social worker (and classed as vulnerable students) or for those who’s parents are Key Workers, such as front line staff.

For us, my daughter was initially excited to learn that schools were closing, school has been tricky for a few months now, but then came the news that she would still have to attend. Fortunately, my daughter she was able to adapt well to this news, however, there are many children out there who would really struggle with these mixed and conflicting messages!

Just a couple of days after the announcement that schools were to close, we were then faced with the high probability that we will all be going into lock down! This situation was changing so rapidly, it was hard to comprehend!

I first started drafting this blog as the Coronavirus started to spread across the globe. However, the spread has been so rapid that I didn’t get to finalise my initial blog before it hit the UK and my focus has since dramatically changed! This was no longer about solely protecting our elderly, this is now affecting everyone and changing daily! This is real however surreal it may feel! I am also quickly learning what a massive impact this is having on my daughter and many other families alike.

Children’s Services Involvement

Just referring back, for a moment, to the government’s announcement regarding school closures, except for vulnerable children, for us, whilst we have Children’s Services involvement on paper (‘open, but unallocated’) this does not mean that we are in receipt of any magical support (maybe a blog for another time!).

Again for us, and likewise for many families, I had fought for Children’s Service involvement. I knew we hit criteria, however it took several referrals from ‘professionals’ before we were finally picked up in 2015. We met the criteria for ‘Child in Need’ due to the risk my daughter posed not only to others but also herself.

Shockingly, it was in 2017 when Children’s Services finally admitted ‘there was nothing they could do to change or improve our situation’.

SEND VCB was at an all-time high, but nonetheless they admitted defeat and pretty much abandoned us saying they could only offer to fund respite, but that I needed to source this. They had exhausted all their in-house options to find a suitable carer and it was left down to little ole me to add this task to my ever increasing ‘to do list’!

However, for the purposes of this blog, as a ‘Child in Need’ this meant that we were in the government’s bracket, today, as a ‘vulnerable child’ and school remained open to us.

I’m not sure what additional support, if any, Children’s Services are offering families in this current health emergency but I truly hope they are supporting families to help keep everyone as safe as possible! For us, there has been nothing, no contact, no  check-ins etc, however, this comes as no surprise really as this didn’t even happen prior to them bowing out let alone in this current climate!

Schools to remain open, for now, if your child has an EHCP

Children’s Services criteria aside, the new government’s announcement also meant that due to my daughter having an EHCP, her Specialist Independent School would remain open, PHEW!

The reason for this sense of relief was because, whilst volatility, aggression and violence had reduced lately (at home), mainly due to her new medication, school were experiencing the brunt of these presentations. If school closed, how was I going to manage 24/7 on my own?

At school, there is a ‘team’ around my daughter and even when the situation becomes too difficult for her teacher and TA to manage, there are various other members of staff that can step in to help restore calm.

As like many other families in a similar situation, I don’t have the luxury of a ‘team’ at home and with the thought of school closing, indefinitely, filled me with dread! So, was I relieved, YES, I sure was!

SEND VCB and Mental Health

On top of the worry of SEND VCB (Special Educational Needs & Disabilities, Violent & Challenging Behaviour) increasing, my additional concern, if or when school closed, is my daughter’s mental health deteriorating even further! It was only a matter of days (five to be exact) prior to the government’s announcement, that I was the closest I’d even been to taking my daughter to A&E. Her self-harming was out of control and her suicidal ideology had taken a worrying turn and now appeared to be case of WHEN not IF!

For any parent who has a child with significant mental health difficulties and/or a child with SEND VCB, being able to cope 24/7 on your own, without the 6hrs per day of respite that school brings, is a very daunting prospect! However, at the time of writing this sentence, school continued for now!

Rapidly Changing Times!

On the Sunday evening, having received the news on Friday that school would remain open, for the first time I felt the overwhelming dilemma of should I send her? Yes, school was open, however watching as the countless breaking news bulletins unfolded, where the confirmed cases and indeed the death rates, from the Coronavirus, were massively increasing by the day, I questioned whether I was doing the right thing by continuing to send her?

Monday 23rd March, despite my continued dilemma, I did make the decision to send her. It was a difficult situation, school remained open for vulnerable children like my daughter, but then if the country needed to go into ‘Lock Down’ to have any hope of tackling this deadly virus, was it wise to still send my daughter?

I was edging towards making an executive decision, but the thought kept popping into my head of ‘what if I take her out unnecessarily or too soon?’. Still having a little bit of normality in the crazy world we are currently living in, seemed like a blessing!

Also, my fears of keeping her at home were all too real too. Being unable to go out could be detrimental to her already fragile mental health and the risk of violence returning with a bang at home was high!

I also knew that my daughter would be devastated to miss out on her riding lesson at school on the Monday, so with everything considered I chose to send her. Unfortunately, it transpired that all off site activities had been cancelled, so she didn’t get to ride any way but at least she was still in school.

Afterschool on the Monday, my daughter excitedly came out saying ‘I don’t have to come to school tomorrow as you are not a Key Worker’! What? Who would have told her this? Granted I’m not a Key Worker, however, during discussions with her TA and herself we were able to make her understand it is about risk management and routine and not just about having to be a Key Worker.

LOCK DOWN!

It was on the eve of Monday 23rd March 2020, that the government announced, without actually saying these words, that the UK was now in LOCK DOWN!

In a way I was pleased that the government had finally made this decision, as it made it easier for me to decide that now was the right time to stop sending my daughter to school, however on the flip side the reality of no school was now REAL!

Survival

When you are a parent of a child with mental health issues and/or SEND VCB not only are you fearful of the potential impact of Coronavirus but you are also fearful of the potential increase in aggression and violence as well as the fear that your child’s mental health will deteriorate even further by being in Lock Down! This is going to be about survival for all of us!

Crisis Planning

Many families will have a crisis plan in place by CAMHS, for what it is worth, however it is also worth contacting your schools (which remain open for now) and asking what, if any, support they are able to offer.

My daughter’s Specialist Independent School are offering twice weekly checkin’s as well as the availability to call or email if need be.   

The potential impact and risk to families in a similar situation is huge! Please do explore all avenues of support during these unprecedented times!

Additional role since ‘Lock Down

On a lighter note, since ‘Lock Down’ it appears that I have a new job role, and I’m not even talking about being ‘teacher’! It transpires I’ve now been nominated as ‘slave’! Lots of demands and inability to do things for herself. Not quite sure how this has happened so quickly lol, maybe it’s the consistency of having me at her beck and call that’s reassuring, but boy this is full on!

No respite, no ‘team’ around the child, just myself and her elder sister to support her and each other through these difficult times! We are going to need all the strength, luck and hope we can muster up to get through this!

Keep Safe, Keep Sane!

During these worrying and uncertain times, we all need to stick together!

Whilst online communities have always been a great way to make and keep contact with others in similar situations, I cannot emphasise enough how absolutely crucial these support groups and pages are going to be over the coming days, weeks and even possibly months, whilst we all try to ride this horrific virus out as best we can!

PLEASE, if you are struggling, reach out! Keep safe, keep sane!

For further support:

There is a Closed Group on No Magic Wand UK Facebook. Just click on the link below, click on ‘visit group’ and answer the joining questions so your request can be approved:

https://www.facebook.com/NoMagicWandUK/

There are also some useful websites here:

https://nomagicwanduk.com/useful-websites/

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