Dawn Hart, Learning coordinator consultant
Comic Relief’s Rise and Shine programme funds organisations supporting early childhood development for vulnerable families in the UK, Kenya and Malawi. This blog looks at the challenges and learning coming from the UK organisations as part of Comic Relief’s approach to utilizing its learning networks to support its funded partners during Covid-19.
“How do you capture and monitor the intensity of holding the space and emotion of a phone call to an anxious parent?”
This was one of the challenges identified by those working directly with vulnerable families during lockdown - how can we find a means of monitoring the depth and quality of the work currently being delivered? UK organisations funded by Comic Relief via the Rise and Shine Programme are being supported to reflect upon and share their learning by a learning coordinator consultancy team (Sarah Frost, Dawn Hart and Tim Hobbs). Recently we brought workers embedded within communities together online to share their challenges and learning and provide peer support. The issues being encountered were multiple and humbling – below is a summary of a few key ones.
Organisations are in the eye of a perfect storm where there is increased demand, reduced staff capacity due to furloughing and withdrawal of some corporate funding and fundraising opportunities. Most projects have, by necessity, shifted to meeting family’s basic needs, for example, providing food assistance. Coupled with this is the fact that existing needs are being accentuated for some and new needs are emerging, including mental health anxieties of parents and domestic abuse, and the significant effects that these have on their young children.
Most provision has been rapidly shifted online – a significant challenge for many organisations whose services have always revolved around an accessible physical space (such as a play centre or drop-in space). This presents opportunities in terms of increased reach but also highlights what one organisation called ‘the parody of inequity’ – those with the greatest need and vulnerability were the least able to access support, largely due to digital poverty.
As the easing of lockdown is anticipated, workers voiced concerns about what they may face next, in particular safeguarding issues coming to light once they are able to return to families’ homes, as well as parent’s concerns about their children with health conditions returning to school and being at increased risk. The anticipation of separation anxiety was also identified, as children leave their families after such an intense period of being together.
Despite these and more challenges, workers were still able to identify some opportunities arising during these times. The other angle of the digital challenge is that some new clients, who have not previously engaged (potentially due to the stigma and perceived barriers of coming to an in-person service in a building), are now coming forward. These times have also accelerated organisations identifying the digital needs of families including devices and data. They are now in a much better position to consider how the use of technology can be woven into future provision. For those organisations solely based in buildings, they have been forced to think creatively and in doing so have challenged some long-held but rarely questioned assumptions underpinning their service delivery.
Collaboration between organisations has been essential to ensure a coordinated eco-system response. The relationships that local charities have on the ground with families has placed them at the heart of partnerships, particularly with statutory organisations wanting to get support to the most vulnerable during the lockdown period. Likewise this has been an opportunity for profile raising, especially if there is a positive story to tell the local media who are looking out for these to counter balance the crisis narrative.
A key theme for most organisations was questioning if they were doing the best they could in the circumstances – the need to connect and share was therefore welcomed; the spirit of mutual support was palpable. We all, when experiencing a great period of isolation, be we workers, parents or carers, have an intrinsic human need to be reassured that we are not alone.
If you want to know more about this programme or the learning from it please contact Jake Grout-Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org(opens in new window)) or Kevin Orr (email@example.com(opens in new window))