Having worked, for 12 years, as an Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Officer and having had two other children, I was very familiar with child development. Whilst my daughter hit all the usual milestones a parent looks out for, she was clearly finding social situations tricky.
After so long working with the littlies and their carers, ensuring they were giving children the best opportunities, I decided to do something completely different. I’d always been passionate about social work and decided to take the leap into becoming an ‘Intensive Family Keyworker’ (2013). This job was tough though, dealing with complex entrenched family issues: from child neglect, to substance misuse, to domestic violence, to unemployment, to school refusers, to housing issues etc – but it was very rewarding when, with support, families could improve their lives for themselves and their children.
I distinctly remember working with one family where this little boy’s behaviour was off the scale! He would rule the house and regularly attack his mum. I look back now, knowing what I know about my own child, and wonder if that little boy did indeed have undiagnosed mental health issues? Something, I regrettably now say, never even crossed my mind at the time! All any of the professionals saw, myself included, was a little boy that needed clear boundaries and better parenting! Not one of us questioned his mental health! I’m ashamed to say that I was one of those judgemental professionals!
Things at home, at this point (2013/2014), were really notching up a level and at just 5 years old, my daughter was displaying some worryingly calculating behaviours ie calmly calling for me from the top floor of our three storey house, and then launching something down the stairwell with the intent to harm, I quickly learnt not to stand in the direct firing line. She was also becoming more and more defiant and aggressive.
It was in Year 1 (2014/2015), where behaviours in school had escalated to the point where she was not only attacking peers but also staff members including the Head. She was often restrained and the class were regularly evacuated. I would be called in regularly ‘to pick her up early’ and the internal and then external exclusions began. It became an increasingly difficult time and this impacted massively on my employment where I was often needing to leave work to deal with a situation with my daughter. Thankfully, I had a very understanding boss who didn’t question when I had to leave early to collect my daughter from school. In fact, the only thing my boss ever questioned was about how the school thought I was going to manage on my own if several members of staff (up to four at one stage) were struggling with her behaviours?
I also was lucky enough to have some amazing work colleagues who offered many a comfort when I would arrive at work, battered/bruised, emotional and physically/mentally exhausted. All prior to starting a days work supporting multiple families with their issues and difficulties!
Things got even worse at school and ultimately my daughter was permanently excluded in July 2015. Result I thought, as now she can be placed in a school that can support her needs! However, this decision to permanently exclude was overturned by the Local Authority and I was informed that my daughter would have to return to the same mainstream school in the September 2015 (having reverted the permanent exclusion to a 5 day exclusion). So we returned, following yet another reintegration meeting after the last half a day of exclusion was rolled over to the new September term. Unbelievable!
So having only managed half an hour back at school, I was called in to collect – I hadn’t even got my key in my office door – it was at this point that I removed my daughter from school. In my opinion, this was a safeguarding issue not only for staff but more importantly for my daughter. This was so emotionally damaging for my daughter and I was not prepared to put her through this any longer and having pre-warned the school, I removed her never to return. It turned out that my daughter was then out of education for 4 months. This was a very tricky period, trying to manage childcare alongside holding onto my employment (but thank goodness for my bestest friend and the fact that her husband was unemployed at that time – they were my god send). My daughter was subsequently placed (not without it’s own process issues) in a Specialist Independent School (Jan 2016).
How, could this be happening to my family? I dealt with families and their issues on a daily basis, so how can I be going home and experiencing worse? I had no answers, I couldn’t ‘fix’ my family.
Whilst behaviours were extreme in school they were also escalating at home and I found myself having to really carefully consider what I wore to work, to enable me to cover up the ever increasing bruises I was sporting from being bitten on the daily basis.
I loved my job and within just a few months, I had been promoted to a Senior and was managing six staff. However, things were difficult, dealing with the stuff at home, issues getting my daughter into school (prior to the exclusions) and indeed praying that behaviours would be of such that I wouldn’t ‘get that call’. I was living on tender hooks, each day going into work wondering how long I would be able to stay.
Unfortunately, due to budgets cuts, after approximately a year of being a Senior, I went back to the Keyworker role. Things at this point (2015/2016) were extreme. Whilst trying to manage everything at home and at school, on top of this our lives were also now full of appointments with the Psychiatrist/ Speech and Language Therapist/Educational Psychologist/School etc as well as in the process of trying to secure an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Life was beyond hectic! I was often up until the early hours of the morning collating information and preparing for various meetings or appointments. I was exhausted, but I still continued to get up every morning, deal with everything my daughter threw at me (literally), get her to school and get into work.
I suppose I had considered giving up my job for approximately a year before I was actually finally brave enough to take the leap. I really didn’t feel I had any choice. Not only was it so stressful dealing with the extreme challenges at home/the constant phone calls to various professionals/the having to leave early to pick my daughter up from school who couldn’t cope etc, but I felt that I could no longer give my job my undivided attention whilst there. I was going into family homes helping with many complex issues, however I was then going home and dealing with issues that were more extreme than what I was being paid to deal with. Something had to give and that, very sadly, was my job.
How were we going to manage?? How was I going to cope financially?? I’d never been on benefits and had always worked hard to support my family single-handedly. How could this have happened to me at the age of 42?!
There was also an element of shame, being unemployed and claiming benefits, however for my own sanity it had to be done! Handing in my resignation was emotional!
However, once I had finally made the decision to quit my job it turned out to be the best decision I could have made! It, at least, took some of the stress and pressure off. I just needed to learn to adjust to this new way of living and get over the embarrassment of being on benefits!
So many parents/carers of children with special needs and disabilities have to make this very difficult decision to give up their job and it sadly comes at price, not least giving up that part of your independence.
I had never previously thought of employment as a luxury, well not until it was taken away. But it was, going to work was a time to be myself and not just mum. However, I was not super human (as I had previously thought) and something had to give and that, sadly, was my job/career.
I was now, what I learnt it to be known as, a Parent/Carer!