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When IT worker Lindsay and her family reached out to Maria Baxter at the Children North East Crisis Intervention Team, things really had hit rock bottom.

Twelve-year-old Matthew has had severe behavioural issues since he was three. Lindsay told her story to Children North East’s Katie Bryson. We have changed the names of the family to protect their privacy.

“It started with tantrums and steadily progressed into more violent outbursts of aggression as he’s grown older and stronger,” says Lindsay.

“He’s been excluded from school multiple times, gets into regular physical conflicts with us at home and has been arrested for assault and breaching the peace.”

sad person looking out of the window

The right kind of support

Maria Baxter, Family Practitioner for Children North East with Families in Crisis team is commissioned to work for families who have local authority involvement with their children.

Maria says this isn’t the case of Matt being a ‘naughty’ child or Lindsay not being a good enough parent, “this is a young person with traits of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and Autism whose family desperately need the right kind of support.”

Lindsay and son Matt live with her husband in Sunderland and their two daughters age six and four.

They have been fighting for years to get Matt a diagnosis, because once this is in place they’ll be able to access specialist support services.  Medication, therapy, special educational needs provision – the kind of things that are life-changing to a family living through this kind of crisis.

Frightening and distressing episode

Lindsay juggles this stressful family life with a full time job as an IT Project Support Officer. She’s holding it all together, chasing up all the services, fielding the constant phone calls from the school, managing the relationships within her family, but says herself before she met Maria she was running out of fight.

Lindsay describes one of Matt’s most frightening and distressing episodes.

“He had a meltdown that lasted four days and during that time I took the worst beating from him that I’ve ever taken.

‘He had a sixteen inch carving knife’

“Matt had me pinned by the throat, my six-year-old daughter got my husband on the phone saying ‘Dad you need to come home and help mum Matt’s strangling her and she can’t get him off’. My husband came home and managed to get Matt away from me and give me a bit of breathing space but he had to take the younger two to school.

“The girls have been witness to this kind of stuff for as long as they can remember, and have been victims of the violence themselves.

“While my husband was out, Matt attacked me again, and this time he had a sixteen inch carving knife which he put up next to my face with me pinned up against the wall. My husband came home and saw this and phoned the police. We couldn’t cope.

“Matt was 11 and this was the second time he’d tried to use a knife.  So when the police arrived he was throwing things at them, he assaulted one of them and ended up getting arrested. It was the worst day of my life.”

‘You feel judged’

“I refused to press charges even though everyone wanted me to do that, but I just couldn’t because he’s my son. He’s my baby, I don’t want him in that system, I don’t want it to affect his future.

It went to child protection conference in October because of that incident and a child protection plan was put in place to keep the family safe.

Lindsay said, “You feel judged and criticised, it makes you want to scream.”

After another violent meltdown over Christmas, Lindsay spoke to the out of hours service at Together For Children and they put them in touch with Maria at Children North East Crisis Intervention Service.

Keeping families together

Maria says part of her job is to signpost to other agencies and make a recommendation of what support they’ll need for that child until they’re 18. “For example if that child will need dip-in services at each milestone, then that’s what my recommendation is and that’s what will have to happen. It’s making sure that the family has the best chance of surviving as a unit.”

Lindsay affirms this: “Maria’s given us access to resources that will make a huge difference. She’s made referrals into Grace House, a charity who offer holistic therapies, counselling sessions, Indian head massages for parents, sensory rooms and respite for families like ours that need a break.”

Maria visits the family home every week. “It’s so easy to talk to her because you don’t get the judgement. She isn’t looking around for things being out of place. She has a way of talking to Matt that gets him to open up.

“She brought him some cakes and some sensory items to help keep him calm, they’ve even made pizzas together. He was telling her how he feels, he was really receptive to her. He’s always been a closed book so that was really nice to see.

A sense of hope

“When he’s not on an episode he’s lovely. He’s the best kid you can ask for. He’s kind, he’s loving, he’s caring, he’s polite. It makes such a difference.

“With Maria it’s all about the people, she’s a brilliant person. It gives you a sense of hope. Seeing what she’s done for us I can only imagine what she’s done for others.”

Mum Lauren Poundall is urging other parents to learn first aid after she saved her son Theo’s life when he choked on a button.

Lauren, 23, says she believes she might have lost Theo had she not just attended our Whoops! baby and child lifesaving course.

Theo was playing in the living room of Lauren’s flat in Throckley, Newcastle when he started to go blue and was struggling to catch his breath.

Missing button

The assistant bar manager was getting ready to go to work in Newcastle early in the morning when her gran shouted through for her.

Lauren recalls: “I said to my grandma, ‘What’s he had?’ and she said he’d been playing with my coat on the floor. When I checked it, there was a button missing – he’d obviously pulled a button off my coat and swallowed it.

“You could see he was trying to breathe but he couldn’t and he’d started to go blue. So I lay him over my knee and started doing back slaps.

A cry of relief

“I was surprised at how calm I was – but I think that was because I’d done the course and knew what to do so I was able to stop myself getting emotional.

“The button was really lodged but I managed to get it out and Theo gave a cry of relief and started breathing again. I dread to think what might have happened if I hadn’t done the course. It definitely gave me the confidence to deal with it in the moment though when I got into work, it hit me what could have happened and it took me quite a while before I felt OK again.”

Lauren decided to enrol for the two hour session run by Debbie Ellerby, Training & Project Coordinator with Children North East’s Whoops! Project at her local community centre because Theo had suffered from erratic breathing in his first few weeks of life. Thankfully, he’s now a happy and healthy 15-month-old.

Claire and her children were subjected to years of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, but finally plucked up the courage to leave.

She accessed our Domestic Abuse FAST (Families Are Special Together) programme which helps families understand the impact of abuse on their lives. It helps to build a family’s confidence and self-esteem to move on from the abuse they have experienced.

Claire talks frankly about her experiences and how the programme has transformed their lives – we’ve changed the names of the family to protect their identity.


“When I realised how bad the domestic abuse was in my home, I ended the relationship and tried to get help. I was too scared to go to the police, so I felt like I just had to deal with it.

Because I had access to cannabis I smoked quite a lot – probably about 10 joints a day, maybe more if I’m honest.  I was on a lot of prescription drugs too.

I was always at home by myself. I was very anxious. I really needed a lot of help.

Then my son disclosed that my husband had sexually abused him, at that point I wasn’t scared any more. I went to the police and had him arrested. But I still couldn’t get any help. Nobody would help.

 

My son Tom had disclosed this abuse, he was going through his GCSEs, he was getting bullied at school and he was self-harming.  I didn’t realise how poor my parenting skills were, because I’d experienced it my whole life. That was my normal.

Living in chaos

It was all really chaotic and it felt like I’d lost control of the situation.

I was living in chaos. I didn’t brush my teeth, laundry piled up, the house was a mess, all I could do was get ready and go to work. It was a really hard time. If social services had seen the state of everything back then I’d have lost the children.  But because I went to DARE that didn’t happen.

The first day I did the programme I came home and tidied up. It felt absolutely brilliant to have a living room back! It didn’t go past the living room for some time, but it was a start. I do tidy up and brush my teeth now!

I wasn’t opening any of my letters. So I had bailiffs chasing me. Children North East helped me get in touch with Citizens Advice.

“I’ve been lucky enough to make the break”

During this time I was also going through court proceedings, but I couldn’t get legal representation because I earned too much. I lost my business, so I started washing dishes, but I still earned too much on minimum wage for just 16 hours a week which I still don’t understand.

We’ve moved out of the city to another area and we absolutely love it. The best move I’ve ever made. I’ve been lucky enough to make that break, some women can’t. The violence continues for them.

I’ve embraced the programme because my case was so dramatic that we just had to leave. I would never have got to where I was without the team’s help. They gave me coping mechanisms throughout all of this.

I had absolutely no knowledge of domestic abuse which is why it should be part of the curriculum in schools. Parents are too damaged, they’re already in the generational cycle of abuse, they don’t understand. I didn’t understand. You think it’s totally normal and it’s not.

I met a new guy and we had an absolutely great few months together but it didn’t work out.   He lied, he lied big time. If it’d been a couple of years before, I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to him for lying.  But I’d learnt so much from the programme and I’m much stronger now. I amicably ended the relationship.  It proves to me how much I’ve grown as a person. It doesn’t scare me anymore.”

 

Being the parent of a teenager is not always easy. Here are some of the things happening to teenagers that are not always obvious:

Your teenager needs more sleep than you!
During the teenage years, sleep patterns change because the brain produces melatonin at different times of the day. This may make your teen feel tired later in the evening, keeps them awake at night and can make it harder for them to wake up in the morning. They are not just being lazy!

Your teenager needs lots of alone time.
It is no surprise that with all the brain and hormonal developments your teen is having to deal with that they may need a bit more time on their own.

So they may want to hide in their room for more time than you are comfortable with. Setting up really good family routines (shared meal times, a weekly family film or game etc.) will give your teen a structure that allows them that ‘alone time’ but keeps you connected as a family too.

Your teenager feels love just the same as you do.
As an adult it can be easy to dismiss a teen’s first love or crush but remember that the love they feel is just as real to them as the people you love. A break up of a first boyfriend or girlfriend can be as heart breaking and stressful as a marriage break up. So don’t try to dismiss the stress and upset they feel. Be there to listen, give cuddles and reassurance.

Your teenager is busy trying to be part of the pack!
All teenagers want to ‘fit in’. They are struggling with their identity and what it means to be ‘them’. Peer pressure to conform is at record levels with the use of social media and mobile phones. Letting your teen take some small risks and try lots of new experiences and hobbies can help your child develop an independent identity and explore grown-up behaviour. It will help them move towards independence but in a safe way that you can be involved in.

Your teenager needs affection even when they are arguing with you.
In the heat of an argument or clash of wills it can be easy to forget that your teenager is still really just an adolescent child. Even when they appear to be growing up fast and trying to do more grown up activities. Make sure you show your teen as much affection as possible. Whether this be through a cuddle, a kiss or spending some quality time together.

Your teenager is not you!
Just because you have experienced being a teenager does not mean you know or understand what your teenager is going through. It can be easy to make assumptions of what they are going through based on your own teenage past. Take the time to consider whether the expectations you have of your teen are realistic, do they fit with the person they are becoming and are they based on your experience or theirs?

Getting back into a good school routine with your child isn’t always easy after the long summer break. Kimberley Bain, a Family Practitioner with our Families and Parenting Service, shares her advice on how to pick that routine back up.

After six wonderful weeks off in the somewhat sunny weather, it can be difficult to get back into a routine. Your little ones may be used to lie-ins and PJ days, but unfortunately, that has to come to an end. Here’s some top tips on how to get your children back into the swing of their school routine!

Prepare them for what’s coming

On the run up to the first day, let them know that school is just around the corner. Start getting them out of bed at the time they normally would for school, this way it won’t be as big of a shock when it comes to getting up for the real thing.

Get into a routine

Make the morning routine the same so your children know what’s coming. Wake up, breakfast, brush teeth, clothes on! If there is time you might even let them watch some TV. Routine helps children to feel more relaxed and know what to expect. It doesn’t have to be military action, just relax into it, don’t make the routine a chore.

Be prepared!

Be as prepared as you can be. It’s a good idea to have the packed lunches made and the uniforms ready the night before. This means you’re not trying to do everything in the morning.

 

In this advice video, Debbie Ellerby, the Trainer and Project Co-ordinator for our Whoops Child Safety Project, shows you how to spot the signs when a child is choking.