An Aberdeen-based children’s charity is working with families to find out the best ways to support them over the coming year.
Charlie House, which helps babies, children and young people with complex disabilities and life-limiting conditions was forced to change the way it delivered many of its vital services to families last year during the coronavirus pandemic.
And now that Scotland is in another lockdown, the charity is working hard to ensure that its families remain supported.
Charlie House saw a huge increase in the requests for support in 2020, and hopes to ensure that it can continue to provide assistance for those who need it.
Leigh Ryrie, children and family support manager at Charlie House, said: “Loneliness and isolation are a key concern for the families we support, not just during lockdown but throughout any other ‘normal’ year.
“Contracting the common cold can be dangerous for some of the children we support so many families experience isolation regardless of a global pandemic.
“It becomes their ‘every day’, but prolonged periods of time during lockdown can leave many feeling very isolated and anxious, which is why Charlie House focuses on being that constant contact and support network.
“2021 will see Charlie House continue its work to support families across the north-east of Scotland.
“We are currently liaising with families for feedback and input on what they feel is most important to them in terms of support and how we can best deliver that. We will ensure that services remain continuous and that all families are supported during this year and in the future.
“Last time round lockdown came upon us suddenly, this time we’ve had the opportunity to learn and reflect on what did or didn’t work in the past and what we can take to the future, and the families are always very much part of this journey.”
Louise Andrew, chief executive of Charlie House, added: “The latest announcement will make the start of 2021 even more tough and challenging for everyone, but Charlie House is committed to making life better for babies, children and young people with complex disabilities and life-limiting conditions, their parents, brothers, sisters and all who love them.
“From March 2020 we changed our entire service model almost overnight from physical to virtual and went on to deliver 147 live and on-demand virtual activities, 63 postal activities, 994 support sessions and 131 pre- and post-bereavement sessions. We also sent 1,434 gifted items to families to support them during shielding and isolation.
“As of the start of the year we have assured the families we support that this will not only continue, but that we will also be expanding and adapting our current service offering to ensure local families receive what they need, when they need it.
“The feedback from families on how vital this support was during last year was heart-warming and overwhelming, and as a team we are so happy that our adapted services have and will continue to give comfort and care to families in the north-east.”
To ensure families don’t lose out on the same interactions, Charlie House altered and moved many of its support services online.
From hosting Christmas and Halloween parties for youngsters to online arts and crafts videos, magician performances, sibling support sessions, virtual massage workshops, guided relaxation and more, assistance has continued to be a huge part of the charity’s work despite the change in circumstances.
The lockdown has a profound impact on many, however, families with vulnerable children have also been particularly affected – especially as outside time may be limited for many during the cold weather.
Leigh said: “Many of the families we support have been shielding since the first days of lockdown and, following the latest government announcement, have more days of isolation ahead of them.
“When shielding restrictions were lifted in the warmer months of 2020 many families could venture out into their own gardens or go for short walks, but the cold winter temperatures we are currently experiencing just don’t allow that due to the complex nature of their child/children’s medical condition.
“Couple that with ice and snow underfoot for parents/carers trying to manoeuvre wheelchairs, walking frames, etc, something which should be an enjoyable and accessible outdoor activity becomes an impossibility, leading to lots of time spent indoors and isolated. Shorter days and long, cold, dark nights may also contribute to mental health challenges.”