Karen shares a day in the life of a new sibling worker at Julia's House:
9am. It was a windy Saturday. Very cold. So I am wrapped up in the biggest coat and the biggest scarf shadowing my colleague, Maria as we head out for a full day in the park. Even our PPE masks were welcome as another layer of warmth!
The first of our visits was to a young boy. We knocked on the door, and there he was, just wandering around the front room, quietly anxious. I looked around and realised how much love was in the room, as the whole family were sat on the sofa all snuggled, all warm and happy. My first thought was “he won’t want to go out in the cold to the park!” Sure enough, he started to say “why do I need to go out? I’m fine home here”. He was wearing his AFC Bournemouth kit that Julia’s House gave him. Mum hasn’t been able to take it off him. He sleeps in it and she’s struggled to take it off him even to wash! He’s clearly so proud of it.
We worked on persuading him to come out. Maria asked him to show us his AFC Bournemouth coat, so, he put it on, and surprise, surprise, felt like heading out. You may well ask why we’re so keen to be outside on such a cold day, but it is really important for the children to have a change of environment which can help them open up if anything is going on for them. Walking and talking also helps everyone feel more relaxed and the children and young people can feel more confident and comfortable in every day conversation.
We walked to the shops first of all. He had his pocket money from his mum to spend on whatever he wanted. But he didn’t want sweets or a hot chocolate for himself, all he wanted was to take a treat back for his cousin who’d been staying on a sleep over. So he chose Hubba Bubba. One for him, one for his cousin and a chocolate bar for his little brother. He was so pleased with himself and so happy.
Then it was on to the park. He’s still quite quiet, but starts to chat a little bit more and open up. He’s talking with Maria about his friendships and how he’s enjoying spending the time with his mum as they walk to school together.
But as soon as we hit the park with his special gold football, this cautious little boy turns a corner. I don’t know what happened but we suddenly had a full on referee on our hands. He was so in control of us, putting Maria and my football skills to the absolute test. He was in goal with his special goalie gloves and instructing Maria and I on how we should kick the ball. He was keeping score and sharing how “the crowd was going wild.” This quiet child just turned into a bundle of energy and joy. He was just so happy. We were there for a good hour, just happily kicking a football around, full of life. When we got home he was just ready to snuggle for a Saturday.
We then drove to our next visit to see two sisters. The younger one was cheeky and chatty but the older one didn’t always want to talk, so she tended to sign or use her iPad to communicate, which totally worked for her. When we first arrived we spent some time speaking and playing with the girls and encouraging them to venture outside for a change of scene. Eventually, we managed to get everyone out of the door although the youngest child said: “I’m not going to come out for long. I’m just going to go to the bakery.” We agreed. Once we’d got going, she started to get chattier and was giggling.
The older sister was talking with us through her iPad, sharing what she’s up to at college and showing me all the dressmaking she’s been doing. I’d never been in a situation like this before. It was amazing. While she didn’t speak with me and just communicated through her iPad and signing, I felt I really got to know her and her personality just shone through.
At lunchtime we all got sausage rolls and went to the park. From just wanting to go to the bakery, the younger sister was now in her element. Maria got out the big chalks and the girls were so excited: “Maria’s got new chalks!!” They grabbed them and were colouring in the wall, different colours and patterns; they were laughing, drawing, creating, and eating sausage rolls. So simple but such fun. We were there for a long time and then Maria got the bubbles out and the windy day just took over. Bubbles were all over the park and the girls loved it. They were laughing, bouncing about, popping bubbles. Again, such a simple game but so effective. It melted my heart. You don’t have to do big things, it’s just the simple things the children want.
I remembered back to when we left the house, mum had been a bit worried that the girls wouldn’t want to stay out the whole time but once we were out, we didn’t look back. They went back laughing, happy girls, bouncing around with their bubbles.
Back to the car and a quick mug of hot soup on the go. Then to meet our last sibling. There on the doorstop was a stunning teenager. So tall, so beautiful and cool. Mum shared an update with us on what was happening with their poorly child and she just stood there so quietly and elegantly. She was really listening to what her mum was saying, and acknowledging the words. It makes you realise what a world these siblings are really in.
Its 5pm now and dark. She wanted to go to McDonalds and was just so pleased to be out. She asked if she could get tea and we agreed. We walked and talked and were just able to listen to how things were for her right now and what was going on at school. As she relaxed more, we chatted about what she was watching on TV and what she had been to see at the cinema. Someone who cares for her sister had actually taken her to the cinema and you suddenly realise how lovely that someone is looking out for these siblings, involving them, caring for them and taking them out.
As we walked back home, she started opening up more and it was so clear how well Maria really knew her and what was going on in her life. We were there to be her friends and a sounding board and it made me appreciate just how important our role is to these siblings. It was good to know that she went back quite happy to settle down for her Saturday night in.
7pm. Phew! Our day was done. I was shattered and also reflective. It’s not always the big stuff that makes the difference; it’s the little things that the siblings value so much.