Helping children since 1891! It’s our 130th anniversary and your support for children in the region is more vital than ever – get involved.

Jon Burton and Ryan Gibson of Unified Films in South Shields are the guys behind our 130th anniversary film, You’re Not Alone and as Jon explains in this blog, it couldn’t have been a more appropriate project to be involved in since both have just become new dads…

 

Ryan with three-month-old Reuben (left) and Jon with Jude, nine months

Reading the words of our friend and past-collaborator, the poet, Scott Tyrrell, Ryan and I looked at each other and telepathically knew that ‘You’re Not Alone’ was going to have to be bigger and bolder than anything we’d done in order to do the poem justice. It went on to be the most ambitious film we’ve created, with four different concurrent stories running over different time periods, featuring between 20-30 actors and extras in multiple locations.

Our scheduling and paternity leave also left us with relatively little time to achieve all of this, with just over a month being the window for all stages of production. Gulp. So yes, the process of making the film has been challenging but also rewarding and enjoyable in equal measure. 

The high stakes, scant time windows and demands of the production set the stage for a uniquely ‘unified’ experience, with every crew and cast member going above and beyond what was required of them to make things happen, which has been truly humbling, and quite honestly, a downright amazing feat of community in action.

The good-natured ethos of Children North East seemed to be reflected in the attitudes of those who came forward to offer help to the film. Whatever we needed, there would be someone there to offer it up, many of whom citing their reasons for inconveniencing themselves as, ‘It’s for the children’, very much adding credence to the idea that we’re a region that cares deeply for its kids.

We truly do live in a region that isn’t afraid to offer a helping hand, and we seem to share an unspoken, instinctual drive to protect and care for our children. And we were proud to be North Easterners to begin with…

The production has also possessed a sort of surrogate family vibe. With many of the actors being children, there’s been a sense of joy, exuberance (and chaos!) on the set, as well as a nurturing energy which appropriately reflects the charity that we’re trying to depict. The children, might I add, teaching us as much as we’ve taught them, rewarding our patience and presence with the spontaneous wonder that only children can really provide.

Ryan behind the camera on Roker Beach

Ryan and I have also just had baby boys, so once again the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate, with chaos, joy and steep learning curves being the run of the day at the minute in any case! It seems synchronistic to us that, at a time when we’re learning to care for our children, this project came along that would show us just how much that theme runs deep, and that family can be something more than what you would expect.

Where we sit now, at the very end of the journey with this project, Ryan and I confidently concur that it has in many ways been the epitome of why we do what we do. We like to tell stories that inspire, and there are few examples out there as appropriate to that as the story of Children North East. We truly hope everyone enjoys the film as much as we’ve enjoyed making it, and feels deeply the pride from knowing that our region (and the dedicated staff of Children North East), chooses to take vulnerable children and parents by the hand and assure them, ‘You are not alone’. 

Support our 130th Year Appeal

As Operations Director at Children North East, Michele Deans is very involved in what is going on with the fundraising team and was very excited earlier in the year when we launched a Hadrian’s Wall Virtual Challenge as part of our 130th anniversary celebrations. In this blog, she tells us how because she has enjoyed ‘walking the Wall’ so much, she’s decided to do the length of it all over again!

Walking was a big part of my life growing up. We didn’t have a car and limited public transport in the area I grew up meant that I had to walk the five mile round-trip to school daily.  This never bothered me, but as I got older, got a job and learned how to drive, walking took the back seat and I must admit, even short walking journeys were taken by car.

But all that was to change in December 2019 when we adopted a gorgeous and excitable little Westie with lots of energy that we named Dolly (she is as feisty as Dolly Parton).  Suddenly I had to walk, a lot, and I began to enjoy it!  When lockdown came in March 2020, I found that at the end of the day, walking around our local park was part of my routine and this has continued, except the walks have got longer, more challenging and I have felt my physical health improving and of course my mental health has been boosted too.

The virtual Hadrian’s Wall Challenge presented me with focus and I have loved every minute of it and the little trips we have taken. There were a couple of reasons why I wanted to do this, first and foremost, I am passionate and committed to the work that we do and wanted to get involved in something I knew I could do and that I knew friends and family would sponsor me for. Also, I knew my little pal ‘Dolly’ would become my companion on my virtual Hadrian’s Wall walks.

On March 1, I signed up to the fundraising app ‘GivePenny’ and the activity tracking app Strava (to make sure I could keep an accurate record of my kilometres) and I started my long walks. By mid-May I had completed the walking challenge – 130 kilometers – but I wasn’t quite finished. I thought a real challenge for me was to walk there and back, so to date I have completed 244 kilometers and I am pretty sure I will get to 260 by the weekend.

By mid-May when the weather started to improve, we took off to other areas of the North East, completing long walks from Craster to Dustanburgh, in Northumberland along with more miles around Seahouses and Bamburgh and Barnard Castle in Teesdale. Then last weekend we took off to Twice Brewed, near Haydon Bridge, to walk some of the actual Hadrian’s Wall itself.

The simplicity of GivePenny has been brilliant and, as I suspected, family and friends have been generous. In fact I am about to reach £200 in donations which will go in some way to supporting our services.

And I’m not planning to stop now….I am looking to find another walking challenge to keep me going. I’d recommend the Challenge to anyone of moderate fitness – you can clock up the miles however you want to, in your local neighbourhood, or if you have access to transport, it’s a good excuse to get out and enjoy our beautiful countryside. In fact, while you’re out there, you could even take some photographs and enter the Children North East 2022 Calendar Competition!

Mum, Jane Johnson, who accessed therapy through our NEWPIP (Newcastle Parent Infant Partnership) Service talks here about the transformative effects it had on the relationship between herself and her precious daughter, Amy.

Jane and Amy today

How were you referred to our NEWPIP Service Jane?

I was referred by my health visitor as I’d had prenatal depression and she saw that I was still very down after Amy was born. Furthermore, they recognised I also needed some help bonding with Amy. I already had an 11-month-old baby boy at the time and I felt I needed to talk to someone.

What kind of help did you get from the Service?

Peter Toolan, my therapist, firstly came to my house and did a numbered questionnaire on how I was feeling and that gave him something to work on. He was a very friendly and approachable man who never made me feel like I had to talk or be a certain way, he just listened. He was always so comforting! He was also brilliant at interacting with Amy. Peter really seemed to care and made the session that much easier.

Amy just had her third birthday

Your interactions with Amy were filmed as part of your therapy, how did that feel?

I was very nervous when Peter first mentioned it and I didn’t know how to be but it made absolute sense when I saw the videos afterwards. The first one we did was quite early on. I remember I was talking and singing with Amy, but I hadn’t realised that she wasn’t responding to me and kept moving her head away – maybe feeling my feelings. It helped me understand that I wanted to put more energy into singing and interacting with her, and within a couple of weeks, at the next session, she was laughing with me and looking at me. This was only seen by being videoed and was a brilliant tool to be used!

How would you describe your state of mind/relationship with your baby before engaging with NEWPIP? 

I was looking after her physical needs but emotionally I wasn’t. I would sit for hours mentally exhausted, crying for ages, which wasn’t healthy for her. I didn’t know how to break the cycle and enjoy my baby.

How would you describe your relationship today? 

She’s my little angel! She was three years old at the beginning of June (it’s gone by very quickly)! She’s such a happy, delightful, intelligent little girl. She loves to sing and dance, and we are forever laughing together. We both love each other so much!

What would you say to other new parents who might be struggling? Would you recommend NEWPIP?

I’d tell them to please seek help. It’s so good just to talk to someone! Everything will get easier, and it’s all a phase. You will also sleep again! I’d also remind them to look after themselves as it’s not easy! I would highly recommend NEWPIP. They saved not only the bond with my daughter but also my life!

What do you think Amy would say, if she had the words, about how things are now?

She would tell me how happy she is, and how she loves seeing her mummy being happy! She loves mummy taking her to dance classes and swimming and going on special mum and daughter dates. Also, she would want me to forever forgive myself because the way I was feeling, it wasn’t my fault

Amy’s happy and confident

How important do you think it is that Infant Mental Health Services are properly funded? Do you think infant mental health is as recognised as older children’s and adult mental health?

It’s so very important, but it’s such a postcode lottery if you’re going to be offered any help. I remember other people saying, ‘You just need to cry…’ But it’s so misunderstood. It’s not that easy! There should be advertising on maternity wards with numbers you can call. They make you so aware of what to look out for with the baby’s health, but never the mum or the relationship with the baby. I know the importance of early relationships is not as well known (I certainly hadn’t thought about it before) but without some support it can have terrible consequences! I wish I could shout about the amazing work of NEWPIP from the rooftops because they can and will save many lives!

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Gwen Dalziel, a School Research and Delivery Practitioner with our Poverty Proofing and Participation Service, reflects on the latest shocking child poverty statistics:

We are greeted today by new concerning statistics showing the extent of child poverty. The statistics released for the financial year 19/20 show a significant increase in levels of poverty and are a stark reminder of the inequalities faced by many families.

Today 30 per cent of children in the UK are living in poverty. There were 4.3 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2019-20.

I feel so sad to see this. A concise and unavoidable summary of our failure to create equality, security and comfort for all. It is really important that we take the time to face up to these statistics. Too often politicians, certain sections of the media and society in general try to brush away these numbers by feeding us misinformation about poverty having solely behavioural causes and this is simply not the case.

Three quarters (75 per cent) of children living in poverty in 2019/20 were in households with at least one working adult – up from two thirds (67%) in 2014/15. This is everyone’s issue and if the pandemic has taught us anything it is that no one is immune.

North East England shows the greatest growth in child poverty over the past five years and has risen by a third, taking it from below the UK average to the second highest of any region. This clearly demonstrates the value of our Poverty Proofing work. I feel proud that we strive to mitigate the effects of poverty and unfortunately the demand for expertise will continue to rise.

We also need to read these statistics with caution and remember two key factors. Firstly, the poverty line has been moved, the median has gone down. This means that the income level at which a family can be considered in poverty has reduced. While it is harder to fall below the poverty threshold, there is still an increase, masking potentially much higher rates. Secondly these statistics are pre-pandemic. We have yet to see the devastating effect of the Covid crisis reflected in the statistics. Sobering thoughts that point to much higher, concealed levels of poverty and a trend that is set to continue.

There needs to be a response. I implore us all to do whatever we can, and in whatever capacity, to try and reverse this trend. Our expertise allows us to advise schools and organisations about best practice to alleviate the disparity experienced by those in poverty but what we really need is to eradicate the structural causes, to create a fairer system for our children. A great example would be not to revoke the £20 Universal Credit uplift. Let’s forge forward and ensure our children’s life chances, access to education and opportunities are not influenced by circumstances outside their control.

Claire Austin, CounsellorIt’s Mental Health Awareness Week 10 – 16 May 2021.  In this blog, Claire Austin, one of our amazing Counsellors at our Young People’s Service, gives us more insight into flashbacks.

We hear the term “flashbacks” mentioned so easily sometimes or being “triggered.”  A flashback is something that comes from trauma, something that doesn’t feel nice.  When a person who experiences this says they are “triggered” they literally mean a thing has happened or been said that gives them a flashback.

But what is a flashback and how do we identify what it feels like for us?

My work mainly focuses on working with young people impacted by sexual and domestic violence.  My experience of flashbacks comes from my own lived experience and that of what young people share.

A flashback is commonly identified as a memory from a past trauma that feels as if it is taking place in that current moment.  Feeling as if the traumatic experience is happening again.

What I hear so often is how flashbacks occur in so many forms but it’s not always understood why or even that it’s a flashback occurring.  Someone can feel the emotions again even if they don’t “see” the memory in their mind, or they may feel some of the physical sensations again and not know why.

In counselling, there are many different ways to work with flashbacks, the best being within a therapeutic space with your counsellor.  By first understanding the experience is a flashback, it can be a great start to unpicking the power it has and how we learn to start controlling it.

When a traumatic experience occurs all our senses are ignited, our brain kicks into survival mode and we do what we can at that time to stay alive.  What happens next is our memory starts to hold onto the experience through our senses and starts to store it in different places.  Our flashbacks occur when these areas become heightened after the experience – touch, smell, taste, image, colour, places – these can all be factors that heighten these stored senses and cause the image to ‘replay’ in our mind.  It doesn’t always make sense, but your brain is kicking back into these negative associations and making you feel unsafe and scared.  It’s also common for this to happen through our dreams, someone can relive the experience in the dream and it feels even more like it doesn’t make sense.  Working with dreams feels important for me, it’s a huge part of our processing to explore and attempt to make sense of our dreams.  This can be another huge step in taking control of the links our subconscious makes.

There are many ways to work with flashbacks, but a nice place to start is with our deep breaths – breathing is something that is always in our control.  There’s no special technique to this, just in and out through the nose, I call it an equal breath.

Breathe in 1…2…3 and breathe out 1…2…3. 

Our breath is a grounding force and by linking into that we can focus our mind and body; it also sends signals to the brain that we are safe.  Concentrate on the breath and breathe in and out until you feel calmer.

Tapping is also a great way to connect with our body, use alternate taps on the knees and thinking of somewhere that makes you happy and safe.  You can bring your breath in again but just do what feels manageable to you at that time.  Lastly, journaling, writing or drawing down those flashbacks and dreams can give you a lot of power over the flashback.  When it is there in front of you, you decide what happens, or how the story goes.  You don’t need to keep them if you don’t wish – rip them up or throw them away after you have put them on paper.  The process of ‘dumping’ it onto paper can be therapeutic and gets it out of your brain and off the carousel that’s repeating again and again.

Flashbacks are powerful and scary and our aim is to take the power out of them. Talking about them is a huge help, but understanding what they are, allows you to take control and start the process of healing.

Luke Bramhall, who leads our Poverty Proofing and Participation Service, on why we need a fresh, new child poverty strategy:

Poverty: in my world, this word flies about constantly – my job title at Children North East is Poverty Proofing and Participation Service Manager – and, as we hear more each day about the social and economic impacts of the Covid pandemic, there is undoubtedly a risk of people becoming desensitised to the term. But we must never become immune to understanding the serious consequences for children and families of being caught in poverty’s grip.

Because income inequality – a longstanding injustice now exacerbated by Covid-19 – not only damages childhoods today but blights children’s life chances tomorrow, with households having low and inadequate incomes being a major underlying driver of physical ill health, worse mental wellbeing, poor living conditions, lower educational achievement and lives being prematurely lost. As a result of families not having enough money, children are unable to fully participate in all aspects of childhood and therefore face barriers every day to being able to thrive.

So when Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee opened an inquiry into children in poverty (focussing initially on how this issue can most accurately be defined and measured), we teamed up with our colleagues at the North East Child Poverty Commission to make a very clear submission: that the defining feature of child poverty is families not having enough resources to meet their basic needs and participate fully in society and the fundamental way to tackle child poverty is therefore to increase household incomes.

Cabinet Minister for child poverty

But we know that recognition of this on its own is not enough. Equally important is having a comprehensive, ambitious plan in place to reduce and then eradicate child poverty, with targets to measure progress and a Cabinet Minister responsible for meeting them, including by ensuring that no policy across Government hinders the achievement of this aim.

This will undoubtedly be a lengthy and complex task but if we do not take meaningful action now, then organisations like Children North East will continue to invest time, resources and effort into alleviating poverty, while we continue to see income inequality increase even further. This is all the more frustrating when we know from relatively recent history that significant reductions in child poverty can be achieved with targeted, joined-up action in place.

I believe there is support across a range of sectors for a new child poverty strategy, and I am comforted every time I speak to yet more people who have had enough; who recognise that it’s not right – in one of the largest economies in the world –  that ever-increasing numbers of children and young people are being held back by inequality and disadvantage; and that it is in all of our interests to change this.

Indeed, our colleagues at Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East, the umbrella organisation representing the third sector regionally, have previously combined forces with the North East Child Poverty Commission and the North East Chamber of Commerce to demand urgent and ongoing action from Government to tackle child poverty levels in our region.

More recently, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, joined with church leaders across the North East in calling on the Chancellor to use his Spring Budget to ‘set out a plan to tackle deeply concerning levels of child poverty in our country.’ And we at Children North East added our voice to those of over 80 others in urging the Chancellor to ‘put children at the heart’ of both the Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review expected later this year.

It is heartening to know there is a groundswell of cross-sector support for action.

Let’s grow this coalition and ensure we use the compassion, determination and commitment shown across our country throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to wage war on this other disease that blights our communities. And, as MPs explore the issues associated with child poverty, we hope that our region’s call for a different kind of roadmap to recovery – one that clearly outlines this nation’s route out of child poverty – will be acted upon by Government.