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Aisling is 10 years old, and came to Barnardos earlier this year after her Mam contacted us looking for some support with her behaviour. Some days she would scream and shout, and lash out at her Mam and little sister. Other days Helen would find her crying quietly in her bedroom, refusing to talk to anyone. Helen said she was living on her nerves that Aisling might hurt herself or her little sister Niamh.
During the first of her individual sessions with her project worker Lesley-Anne, she was withdrawn and didn’t make eye contact. Lesley-Anne tried another way of communicating with the little girl, and asked Aisling to draw a picture, a picture of her safe place. Aisling did draw a picture, and the picture spoke a thousand words.
The picture showed a house on a hill. There was a man standing outside the house. The man had an angry expression on his face. There was a long winding path leading down to a wall, which encircled the house. Outside that wall stood three people. An adult woman, and two children.
‘Aisling, is your home your safe place?’ Lesley-Anne asked her.
‘Us walking away from our home is my safe place,’ the little girl told her.
Helen had initially told us that things weren’t great at home. Her relationship with Aisling’s Dad had broken down significantly and they either had screaming rows or didn’t communicate at all. Helen hadn’t mentioned though that Terry, Aisling’s Dad, had also become quite aggressive during their arguments.
What is more unfortunate, Aisling had witnessed both the physical and emotional abuse perpetrated by their father towards their mother. Helen had no idea that when he was alone with Aisling, Terry would tell Aisling to call her Mam curse words or nasty names. Terry would tell Aisling that it was her fault that her parents fought. Aisling knew that what her Dad was doing was wrong, but she was afraid that he’d hit her too if she didn’t do what he said.
During another session, Aisling drew another picture, which showed a woman, standing under a shower of lightning bolts.
Just before lockdown, Helen had managed to secure a 2-bedroomed apartment for herself and her girls. Barnardos were able to help with acquiring some furniture as well as helping Helen to get the place looking spic and span. We sat down and helped her plan her household budget and gave her some ideas of low cost, healthy meal suggestions to help Aisling and Niamh grow big and strong.
Throughout the entire lockdown period, we did our very best to keep in touch with all of the families using our services, especially with the Roche family. We’ve made phone calls to check in and see how the girls were doing, we dropped off food parcels and activity packs in person so that we could also physically see how children were doing.
Aisling and Helen were delighted to see Lesley-Anne calling with the food parcels and little Niamh was delighted with all the colouring-in. Money was very tight - Terry was refusing to support his children financially and there was often little money to buy food.
Since reopening our services, we’ve been working directly with Aisling and Helen again. It's been tough; Helen had been so anxious about leaving the family home in case there were repercussions from her husband. We’re working to help Helen gain her confidence and self-esteem back so that she can make plans for her future, for her safety and that of her two little girls.
We know there is a long road ahead for Aisling and her Mam, as well as many other children and their families who were already facing adversity before COVID 19 came along, wreaking havoc on society’s most vulnerable. We know we’re on the right track though, because the first drawing Aisling has done since returning to Barnardos was a picture of a woman and two little girls, standing in a grassy field surrounded by lots of colourful flowers. The sun is beaming in the sky.
We have so much hope for Aisling and families like hers. Hope is what drives us. Together with your help, we can build brighter futures for children who might otherwise get lost to our hectic society. We can help them feel safe and above all, loved.
(Note: As always, names used within this letter have been changed to protect the identity of all of our service users. Photos used are always models.)