One ten-year-old boy spent the whole of lockdown in his high rise flat due to his parent’s fear of the virus.
Fear, poverty, social isolation – the pandemic has compounded the daily challenges facing families in minority ethnic communities. Covid-19 and lockdown have together led to loss of income and evictions among black and minority ethnic families who are also only too aware that they are at greater risk from the coronavirus.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The reality of life in lockdown hits home in a powerful report by Philippa Kemp, communications manager of the Edinburgh-based charity Multicultural Family Base. But it also raises hope. A blogpost written for Edinburgh Poverty Commission has attracted wide-spread interest leading to an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde and, with perhaps more direct significance, the campaign organisation Child Poverty Action Group seeking a follow up.
Multicultural Family Base – a multi-disciplinary team of social workers, art therapists and community education workers – offers specialist support to vulnerable, disadvantaged black and minority ethnic (BAME) children and parents in Edinburgh, as well as providing social work training. In highlighting the real life experiences of ethnic minority families, Kemp also demonstrates how flexible, innovative and collaborative ways of working can overcome many problems. CPAG has described it as ‘an exemplar blog’.
Sceptical Scot publishes it here with permission:
Rapid response to urgent need
Lockdown started during the busiest time at Multicultural Family Base. We had nine students on placement, we were running weekly groups within schools and communities across Edinburgh and making regular home visits to families. Lockdown forced us to adapt quickly to home-based working, replacing visits and group meetings with video and phone calls, substantially increasing our reliance on technology. We have adapted, albeit until recently without our student colleagues as part of our workforce, but what has been the impact of the pandemic on families?
Social isolation, racism, poverty, sub-standard housing, domestic violence, mental health difficulties: they were all part of life for black and minority ethnic families before the pandemic. But for many the arrival of COVID has led to a loss of income, reduced support options and a lack of confidence to venture outdoors. One ten-year-old boy spent the whole of lockdown in his high rise flat due to his parent’s fear of the virus.
Lonely and isolated
Families we used to visit have been feeling lonely and isolated; those whose extended families live in countries, harder hit and less well resourced, are worried about Covid outbreaks there. We know that many BAME families were frightened to leave the house during lockdown because they knew they were at higher risk of Covid. Children were therefore confined indoors for long periods and lacked opportunities to exercise or engage in any physical play.
Some families are having issues with neighbours preventing access to shared gardens. One parent with two children under seven and in her third trimester is in temporary accommodation that requires her to walk up 113 steps (6 flights of stairs). Her children have had to change school, and at a time when she should be getting ready for her baby’s arrival, she is anxiously trying to find suitable accommodation for herself and her children.
Another lone parent on furlough from her part time job has no recourse to public funds, is in need of financial help and is in imminent need of housing as her private landlord has given her notice to leave. She needs emergency funding to buy food for herself and her child – a strong parallel to the case of Mercy Baguma [the young mother who died in Glasgow, seeking asylum in the UK]
Through regular and consistent communication, we develop an understanding of the challenges and difficulties in parents’ lives. We try to convey the message that we are there for them and that difficulties can be overcome. This can alleviate feelings of isolation and enable them to process emotions and foster an increased sense of well-being, making them more emotionally available to their children as they are ‘held’ by one of us.
Online baby group
We felt lost at the start of lockdown living with my brother in law, pregnant. We didn’t know who to turn to.
We were referred to the housing department and we presented the letter our worker prepared for us.
We were offered temporary accommodation where I was able to prepare for the birth of my baby.
I received help to get a Moses Basket, blankets and new-born clothes.
I spoke to my worker almost every day. She was in touch when my baby was born.
I knew she wants the best for us and has helped us, even through the Child Protection process with Social Work.
I’m enjoying sharing with other mothers in my weekly baby group online”.
‘E’, a Romanian new mother and Early Years service user
A large part of the support work involves practical direct action or advocacy to work towards resolution of a difficulty. This might involve writing a letter to apply for emergency food, housing, hardship funds or help acquiring a cot, play material or school uniform. Much of our work also involves working with or referring to other professionals, e.g. to resolve benefit issues or get help finding employment after redundancy.
Poverty is a huge issue, as is communicating with services like benefits and housing.
When supporting families to complete complicated application forms for benefits or housing, we are often required to contact another agency who is able to provide an interpreter to obtain all necessary information and avoid any delays. Having direct and funded access to interpreting and translation services would significantly reduce the time families might wait for immediate supplies.
Moving forward – a need for flexibility
Providing people with access to IT is laudable. However, many people are unfamiliar with how to use it. Most benefit applications require complex information and a confidence with English and IT. Families are unable to access welfare benefits advice quickly when CABs are closed and benefits correspondence requires swift replies. There have been a number of funding resources made available during Covid. Some of these were easy and straightforward to access, others less so. All however were dependant on referral.
Having a system with more choice of access might enable service users to exercise their own agency, and avoid agencies inadvertently disempowering them. As an agency we have learned a lot about flexibility and adaptability. With student social workers being allowed to return to their practice placements we are now passing on our learning to them. We are moving forward in this new normal and finding imaginative and innovative ways of providing support to vulnerable BAME families in Edinburgh.
Philippa Kemp is Office and Communications Manager of Multicultural Family Base
This blogpost was first published by Edinburgh Poverty Commission