The background to some of our referrals…
The "G" family
The "G" family. The three youngest of a family of four children attended CoS for respite when the "wheels came off" the happy family of 16 years standing. Without warning dad walked out and has not been in contact for over a year. It's believed he has developed mental health problems/become an alcoholic. The children adored him; he'd been a loving father and they'd done lots together. His abandonment caused extreme trauma. Suddenly mum had four children to raise alone, she could no longer work as she and dad had shared child care by working alternate shifts; she had no transport as he'd taken the car and she didn't drive.
Being hurt, burdened with full child care and severe financial strains, she became depressed and ultimately suicidal. The eldest child became the carer for the family. Fortunately timely support and counselling was provided and within nine months the family began to recover. Initially, just the two youngest children were referred to CoS to provide them with a change of environment and reduce the amount of child care for the mum. However, on visiting CoS, the second eldest asked if she could also attend and so the three youngest were collected and returned home for a day per week throughout the school summer holidays and half-term. The children benefitted enormously from working with the animals, having picnic lunches, lying in the hammock, playing games, picking fruit, climbing hills & trees, paddling in the stream...just generally having fun. Mum was immensely grateful for the opportunity to have one-to-one time with her eldest child and so rebuild that relationship.
Boy "K" is a very bright and intelligent 6 year-old who has become infamous for exhibiting extremely challenging behaviour both at school and at home; throwing furniture, swearing and being violent. Why is he so disruptive? Until 18 months ago he witnessed his father regularly beating his mum. Her injuries were so severe that she could no longer work and needed surgery. “K" and his mum have been re-housed and there’s an injunction to keep his dad away. The situation has resulted in immense psychological damage to both “K” and his mum. Having moved from a badly damaged flat, mum understandably wanted to protect their new home.
Unfortunately she became overly protective of both home and “K”, preventing him from playing/being untidy and not letting him leave her side apart from going to school. The statutory authorities have been excellent and have appointed a play therapist for mum and creative art therapist for “K”. Money is very limited and they have no transport. The school asked CoS to provide holiday respite, activity opportunities and new experiences for “K”, which in turn would help mum allow him to be more independent.
No-one can believe the exemplary behaviour, he demonstrates when with us. The level of politeness and consideration is rarely demonstrated by one so young; e.g. on winning the toss of a coin for the second time, he said it was “only fair” that the other young visitor had the chance to chose the next activity as he’d already had a turn. Apparently in school this would never happen and he’d be quite violent in order to go first. He works through the morning’s chores with enthusiasm and relishes the afternoon’s “play” activities, especially getting muddy in with the pigs, climbing trees, sliding down hills, paddling in the stream...and mum has willingly accepted this.
What is most wonderful though is his connection with the animals. He demonstrates a care and empathy that is truly overwhelming. There’s the most special relationship with Silver, our Connemara pony. Silver is quite capable of being both haughty & naughty but never with “K”. He bows his head so “K” can reach his neck and they hug for minutes at a time. Before coming here “K” had never even been in a field. He’s never been on holiday and he thinks coming here for the day is what others call a holiday.
Boy "E" comes from a chaotic home. His mother has a frequent change of partners, is inconsistent in her care and shows little or no affection towards him, making it obvious that she mainly considers him to be a nuisance. He takes unnecessary risks; has a low sense of danger and disregard for own life. He has a history of self harm. He struggles in school and has a very short attention span. He likes to hide not because he's trying to escape but because it may just give him the attention he seeks - he knows someone will have to look for him and he so loves being found. His literacy and verbal communication are well below what they should be for his age, partly because he has mild learning difficulties but particularly because he's not had the appropriate mental stimulation at home. He gets angry at home and hits out at his mum and sibling
Girl "K" suffers from thyroid malfunction. She has an anxiety disorder that is particularly acute when she thinks that she's done something wrong. She dislikes going out or leaving her mother. At three years-old she just constantly slept, wouldn’t eat & wasn’t developing normally. The problem went undiagnosed until one day mum rushed her to hospital on the verge of a coma. The opposite sleep patterns now apply and she needs tablets to be able to sleep. She has very few friends and finds it difficult to socialise but she quickly felt secure enough to join in group activities at CoS. She can become spectacularly angry and is capable of disrupting the whole of the small school that she attends. She used to try to self harm and just prior to attending CoS made two suicide attempts - one by hanging herself, the other by jumping out of a window. She has a major need to build up confidence & self esteem; to value herself & her achievements. It's important that she develops an age appropriate ability to be separated from mum; to find ways of dealing with situations, which rile her, that avoid her making herself a spectacle that less kind children then ridicule. Her elder sibling also experiences difficulties and attends a special needs school. Both children are under CAMS.
Boy "C" was referred to us by his school with the request that we provide respite for a day per week during the holidays. He suffers from "global development delay", which has resulted in his language being behind that of his peers. He has spent much of his life being cared for by his grandmother because his mum was unable to cope with parental responsibility. This also resulted in poor school attendance. He has an older sister and another sister has just been born. Finances are severely restricted and they have no transport. He is therefore confined to their flat without much to stimulate him.
He is very reserved/introverted. He doesn't vocalise much but shows dissatisfaction by marching off. However, when happy he has the most engaging smile. He’s quite capable of undertaking practical tasks provided he is given both guidance and a lot of encouragement as his confidence needs much bolstering. His memory is not very good. He is particularly interested in insects and all "creepy crawlies", which we look at under a microscope and seek to name.
He has great patience, sitting for long periods in the wild-life hide waiting to see a fox or perched on a wood pile hoping for a grass snake to appear. However, he demonstrates a worryingly cruel trait, coldly crushing snails, cutting worms in half and pulling wings off flies. Most fortunately, this is not manifest against larger animals. As a consequence, much of what we do focuses upon care, consideration and respect; to only do to others (including all creatures) what we would be happy to have done to us.
“M”’s story. He lives in an upstairs flat alone with his mum who suffers from “low level learning disability”. His father is dead. At 11 years old he got bored with doing nothing at home and so became involved with some older irresponsible boys who taught him, that it was fun to set things alight and so he got into trouble for arson! We are told that he has aggressive outbursts, throws things and/or isolates himself and so is unable to stay in school unless he has one-to-one tuition. However, with funding for a support worker only available for four days per week, he had to be at home for the fifth day, that is, until the school heard about CoS.
He’s had several big disappointments. With the best of intentions to make him feel happy, his mum has in the past bought him various pets; including a number of cats and dogs. However, as she could not afford to feed them, didn’t know how to train them or in the case of the dogs didn’t know how big they would grow, all have eventually had to be rehomed. The excitement, companionship, reciprocal “love” that each animal brought into his life was then whisked away, leaving him sad, lonely and resentful.
At CoS he now has two dogs, a cat, two ponies, two pigs, a rabbit, a guinea pig and his two favourites, a ferret called “Teddy Bear” and best of all an umbrella crested cockatoo called “2k”. He cares for them all and when he’s here they are truly only his. They seem to be filling the gap and the reciprocal bonds are a joy to behold. “M” is also the most helpful young person when here; nothing is too much trouble. He’s helped dig the veg patch, pruned the plum tree, swept up leaves and cleaned “2k’s” cage until it sparkled. Next year “M” has to change schools. There’s a fear that the arrangement could lapse and so the head-teachers are liaising and enquiring whether CoS could be recognised as part of his on-going education process. Fingers-crossed!
A different kind of “disadvantage”
A different kind of “disadvantage”. The first languages of two referrals was Cantonese and Mandarin. Due to limited English in their family homes, their vocabulary was behind that of their classroom peers. Also, the mums were very protective and so the children had experienced a very limited range of activities. It is hoped that by becoming involved in animal care and participating in outdoor pursuits at CoS the children will be able to broaden their vocabulary and life experiences.
The stories of two of our earliest referrals in 2008.
“A”’s story. Now 12 years-old, suffering from Turner’s syndrome, she underwent major heart surgery when younger and will need another operation when she is 16. Neglected as a child, she slept on the floor for the first 5 years of her life. Living in squalor and infected with lice, she was taken from her mother who was later prosecuted for neglect and child abuse. Her natural father is dead. She and three siblings live with their step-father and his partner. The natural mother has supervised access for two hours a fortnight. In her step parent's combined family she is one of nine children. Her natural mother failed to administer the growth hormones that she needed to reach maturity. She's been assessed as having a mental age of 8 years old but when given one to one attention she ably exceeds those expectations. There is a fear that some people see a label and not the bright enthusiastic little girl.
On meeting "A" for the first time in April 2008 there was a sadness about her that made her stand out from the other children in the visiting school group. Her teacher and CoS Chief Officer arranged with her step-parents that if "A" wanted to, she could visit each weekend. She is picked up by us every Saturday, stays for nine hours or occasional the whole weekend and she has now been attending for nearly 18 months. The difference in her demeanour is astounding and is commented upon by step-parents, teachers, siblings and even by the concierge at the council flats where she lives. Not everything has been plain sailing as "A" had a strong propensity to lie and to demonstrate frustration through angry, sometimes violent outbursts against her peers and siblings. By using attendance at Change of Scene as a reward for good week-time behaviour, these traits have been overcome (Nov 2009). She is now able to vocalise problems rather than lash out.
Her increased ability and confidence has enabled her to act as a volunteer when her former school again visited the small-holding, so bringing about her own realisation of what she has learnt and achieved. From having been too frightened to go near a pony when she first visited, within six months, she could lead the pony around the field totally unassisted. Having started as too insecure to leave Sue Weaver's side for a moment, she has developed the confidence to take responsibility for the majority of the animal care tasks around the 4-acre small-holding single-handed. She has the freedom to explore, to achieve her own successes and to make her own mistakes yet be safe in the knowledge that support is within easy reach whenever she needs it. She continues to increase her confidence knowing that her efforts will not be denigrated. She is becoming increasing comfortable with her own company and can often be found with her arms around the dogs or pony’s neck have a peaceful ‘deep’ moment.
In April 2008 she had not known that carrots came out of the ground and did not know what a guinea pig was, yet alone ever having handled one. Now she has planted, harvested and cooked her own potatoes; looks after the rabbit and guinea pig and walks the ferrets on leads around the field. She loves gardening, (delighting in learning the names of plants) and animal care (wanting to know everything about them), both activities impossible for her to experience in her flat. She also helps make lunch and has learned how to use a knife to prepare vegetables. She cooks: making bread, blackberry & apple pies, rhubarb cakes, etc. from the fruit she’s picked on the small-holding; we collect kindling and she helps light the fire, and so it goes on. None of these activities is she able/allowed to do at home not least because of the potential danger of eight other siblings wanting to join in. It would seem that she is “behind” because she has lacked the opportunity of gaining experience and knowledge through participation in practical activities. She absorbs everything new with such enthusiasm and her thirst for knowledge now challenges our own...a benefit we'd not envisaged, i.e. we learn more as we look things up!
“S”'s tale. We'd been advised by his school that he suffered from moderate to severe autism; he had a younger very able sister; both his parents had been killed in a car crash. However, his mother & father had divorced, his mother formed a relationship with a very caring man with whom she had a third child but whom she later determined to be “boring”. She left him for a much more exciting person, who turned out to be a drug dealer. He introduced her to cocaine and she became an addict and also an alcoholic. As a result, "S" & his sister were put in a place of safety with their maternal grandparents, (the whereabouts of their natural father being unknown) and the younger daughter went to live with her father. When the drug dealer partner went away “on business” and with children in care, “S”’s mother couldn’t bear the loneliness and hanged herself. This was in April 2004. Both "S" & sister underwent extensive counselling.
"S" was referred to us by his special needs school for work experience.. At first, he was reticent, indeed full-on stubborn, about undertaking certain tasks, especially some of the less attractive chores related to running our cattery. For instance sweeping the drive was just the ‘pits’ and he would abandon his brush and walk off, muttering expletives! We never once permitted him to quit on a task because to us that was giving up on himself. However, equally we neither imposed upon him to do something that we would not do ourselves nor made him do anything unaided and without explanation of how and why it needed to be done. We therefore would share the work with him – grab a broom and sweep alongside him, providing encouragement and then stand back to admire and discuss what a transformation the effort had achieved.
This ten day placement gave him a taste of what was possible. It gave him a sense of personal achievement and he could see the benefits he conferred on the cats and other animals on our small-holding. Remarkably to us, as we felt we’d been quite hard task masters, he asked to return for an extended work placement, a day each week during term time for a year. He loved it so much that he even came during school holidays. What seemed impossible at first is now easily accessible. He can now be entrusted to follow many simple routines and to work on many tasks unsupervised – something that was unimaginable when he first came here. His reading and writing are still very limited but he can now do much from recollection and by colour recognition of food tins, packaging, etc. The establishment of a logical routine has greatly aided him. His grandparents and his teacher are delighted with his progress and his new positive “can do” attitude.
He developed such a love of animal care and gained so much self-confidence from his one-to-one training with our cattery assistant that he's expressed a desire to pursue animal management as a career. He's been able to evaluate the relevant satisfaction that he achieves from animal care and his other love - art and has decided to maintain his art as a hobby through evening classes. As a result of the knowledge and skills that he’s gained while with us, which he gained through his own hard work, we were able to give him a glowing reference. He has just secured one of a limited number of places for special needs students in the local agricultural college. Gone are the negative days of won’t and can’t, he now actively seeks out new tasks and happily undertakes anything. He only ever really needed to understand why taskes needed to be done and to be applauded for a job well done. Don’t we all!
He still attends a half day per week, though now far more of a volunteer than a work experience student.
Both “A” & “S” have expressed a desire to work here when they are older. What two greater tributes could we possibly ask for?
If you think you can help or would like to know more please contact Sue Weaver.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on: 01252 794960 or 07831 675808.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going!”