Nick and Nick
T hese two young people have so much in common; both boys have the same name, both are out of school, both have been bullied, both have been referred to mental health services and social services a number of times. Both are bright; one loves classics, the other loves music. Both love their families and are loved deeply in return. Both have been told that services cannot help them further, but both are still at home, in their bedrooms and mostly alone.
One of them has not left the house for months. One of them has become physically violent because of all that anger and hurt inside. One of them thinks he has no future left – not one that he feels is worth fighting for. He talks about suicide a lot. It is only his parents who are there, and they listen to it every day. They have both developed physical health problems of their own; their GP thinks its stress. Mum can no longer go to work. One of these boys hides under the bed when people come round. One of these families is very well off; they are happy to pay for support, they just need to be able to access it. The other family cannot pay for support – just buying food is a struggle. Both of these boys are in the same system, on the same waiting lists for services, they both have the same ‘won’t engage’ markers on their cases, both have NHS and other professionals involved who feel really frustrated that they can’t do more right now.
Leading Lights is working with both young people; providing weekly mentoring so that they have someone to talk to, and have structure and goals to work towards. Both their mentors check in on them between sessions, letting them know that there is someone there for them, someone who believes in them and who can be there long term. Neither young person wants to be thought about as being ‘different’. Both feel that there is such stigma around what is going on in their heads, so their mentors have found activities through which they can connect, and start to get them out of the house: Small steps – one at a time. One of these young people is now back at school, after a two-year gap, doing A-Levels and planning a future. The Leading Lights core team are providing support to their families, listening to tears, celebrating the small steps forward, working to find solutions with headmasters, and social workers, and ensuring that love and imagination stay central to solving problems. It’s not a fairytale ending but it is a journey forward, to a better destination.
Zadie and Fahlia
W hen we met Zadie, it was really clear to us that if we really wanted to make a long term sustainable difference, we also really needed to help her mum, Fahlia. Since the age of nine, Zadie has been the one who has organized the hospital appointments for Fahlia, negotiated the benefits phone lines, talked to the council about housing, and written letters to their MP. Zadie’s school is huge and no one ever offered her any help. Zadie loves her mum, and Fahlia loves her. It’s just that Fahlia not only has physical health issues but mental health difficulties related to her childhood and abuse. Zadie asked their GP to refer her to counselling to help her cope but she never heard back. When Fahlia got too ill to work and they could not cover their rent, her employers said that her contract did not cover any sick benefits. Fahlia and Zadie knew this did not sound right, but did not know what to do. The pressure started to get too much and Zadie got sick herself, she could simply no longer cope and after being admitted to hospital and being on lots of strong medication; she could no longer focus at school, and started failing her exams. She wanted to go to a top university, for her it was a way out, but now it all looked impossible, a naïve dream which belonged to another kid, a kid with a lot less going on in her life.
A neighbour told Zadie about Leading Lights, and she rang us up. After a year of one to one tuition, Zadie was able to retake her exams and she got the kind of grades she always knew she could get, and won a place at a top university. We also provided a year of counselling with a counselor she felt was astute and skilled, and was able to help her feel more resilient, and she still sees her sometimes when things get a bit too tough. Zadie wants to become a human rights lawyer because she wants to make the world a better place for asylum seekers, and for young people who live below the poverty line. Fahlia is beginning to feel much better too. We helped support her into college as a mature student, where she is now making friends for the first time since she came to the UK ten years ago. Fahlia can now speak English, and she can apply for better jobs that don’t aggravate her health problems. They have a flat without rising damp, and with heating that works. Fahlia’s mental health has got so much better too, now she meets up with friends, instead of just sitting on the sofa. They know that it will not always be easy, but they both feel more able to cope and they can see a future which looks brighter, and is filled with hope and opportunities. They know that we will always be there, but they also know that they have other people who can now help too.
David and Caya
B oth David and Caya hate the term ‘young carer’ but both of them care for people they love, and they both recognise that it has an impact on their education and on how much they always have to deal with emotionally and psychologically. David’s younger brother is severely disabled and as a result his dad had to be in hospital with him all the time. David had to move between friends and family houses; he used to get some support from a young carers group, but it stopped when he reached sixteen. He wanted to stay in touch with his worker there, but they were not allowed to stay in touch with young people who were not on the project. Caya had been looking after her Nan for as long as she could remember, and she resented the way that some people would tend to label her; making comments that she felt somehow blamed her Nan for her disability. She found it really difficult to focus at school, and she had to miss so much. When she tried to seek help, she felt so many assumptions came with it – about her, about her family, that she just stopped asking. She did find someone really wonderful who she felt listened to what she actually wanted, but she only had six weeks with her and saying goodbye was painful.
After school, David moved to a much bigger college where no one knew his name. In fact, when it came to write his UCAS reference, David could not think of anyone who would be able to say anything about him. His teachers were all on sick leave, or maternity leave; instead they just had a series of cover teachers. David really wanted to become a doctor, and as for Caya, who wanted to study architecture, they both felt they had missed so much content at school they were in danger of getting very low grades which would make their degree courses impossible to reach. What David and Caya really wanted was high quality educational support with their A level courses, so that they did not have to lose out just because so much had happened which was outside of their control. After they got in touch with Leading Lights we worked with both of them every week for over a year, organizing their retakes, and they both got amazing grades. Both David and Caya are at University, but we still provide practical and emotional support to them. Young Carers are four times more likely to drop out of university. The way we see it at Leading Lights, it’s not just our role to help young people like David and Caya get into university, its our role to help link them into other services, and fund alternatives when these are not able to meet their needs. For us, it’s about long-term relationship building. They are our friends, as well as our clients.
How You Can Help
L eading Lights delivered over 3,000 sessions last year to young people like Nick, David, Caya and Zadie with over 1,000 of them completely free at point of access. We take referrals from young people and their families, from schools, from social services, from CAMHS, and from other charities. And we do this without any grant funding. This has meant as a very small core team with only one full time paid member of staff, we have had to work very hard, working long hours, and relying a lot on wonderful volunteers. We are very proud of what we have achieved for our young people and families so far, many are back in school, off at great universities that really care about them, making friends, talking back, and laughing. These young people and their families never needed fixing – they just needed imaginative, joined up programmes that put warmth and love back in the frame. They should not have to make a choice between their education and their emotional needs, between their futures and their families. They should not have to just drop out quietly as though its the only solution left available to them. They deserve to have someone who is in charge of their case, who can coordinate the different services they need, at different times. They need specialists, and they might need support in the mid to long-term, not just in the short term. They can’t afford to wait a year to see someone, and they need personalised support, not a one size fits all solution. We are still very much the ‘New Kids on the Block’ but are all too aware that we could do so much more to fill the gaps, and stop young people and their families from the horror of feeling like they are suffering in silence if we just had a bit more capacity. We never stop trying to be better, to be more efficient, to be lean, to respond to ideas of how to do things differently. We listen to our clients, and our practitioners, and we try to make every pound we have go a little bit further.
So we are asking your help! Come and help fundraise for us: As a small organisation, nothing gets wasted, everything gets spent on essentials, and your contribution will make a huge difference. Click here now to donate as we undertake the Welsh Three Peaks Challenge to raise £30,000 towards our new education and wellbeing hub for children and young people with social, emotional, and mental health needs. This is a desperately needed service, as many of these children have nowhere else to go.
* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect identities.