"We saw an immediate rise in real desperate poverty and I think that the speed with which that happened was quite shocking"
COVID-19 seemed to come abruptly. All of a sudden our lives have been changed and for many across Scotland the consequences are far reaching financially and emotionally. Barnardo’s Scotland is one of the organisations working on the frontline across their services to support children and families during the pandemic.
Barnardo’s Scotland has observed that many families in Scotland have been hit hard by COVID-19. With people losing jobs overnight many have been plunged into poverty. Families that were already struggling suddenly found themselves with little or no income. Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo’s Scotland said: “the families who were just coping before suddenly had the rug pulled out from under them both in terms of employment but also some of the supports that were available. We saw an immediate rise in real desperate poverty and I think that the speed with which that happened was quite shocking.”
With difficulties around claiming benefits and accessing the usual channels of support through social work and local authorities, a rapid response was required and Barnardo’s Scotland reacted swiftly. The organisation stepped up its emergency payments programme to give immediate support to families in need of help as well as arranging food deliveries. Across its services Barnardo’s Scotland is providing this practical support, but emotional support is also key. Martin said: “I think there was the material need but also the desperation to have someone working alongside them who could help.”
Barnardo’s Scotland’s on the ground support will be crucial to families as we continue to work through the pandemic. The ongoing pressure of being restricted in lockdown adds a level of complexity to the situation. For children, not having outlets of school and socialising will take its toll particularly with regards to mental health and Barnardo’s Scotland is acutely aware of this. While many services have been migrated to telephone and online support, crucial in-person services remain ongoing depending on individual circumstances.
Barnardo’s Scotland works with care leavers and young homeless people who have been particularly impacted upon by COVID-19. Martin reports that a young person in temporary homeless accommodation will face a great deal of isolation, restricted to a flat with few facilities and in an unfamiliar area not of their choosing. The charity is working to support the young people facing this situation throughout this challenging period.
On the operational side of responding to COVID-19, Martin is aware of pressures on staff and the need to look after their wellbeing: “Some people are also dealing with difficult circumstances in their own families. I think the level of anxiety has gone up a great deal. We are trying to maintain services and support to the children and families we’re working with, but at the same time we’ve got to be supportive of our staff.”
Martin’s leadership role is central to the Barnardo’s Scotland response and he has put in place a communications strategy to bring the whole charity with him while navigating COVID-19. Ensuring that information is shared throughout the whole of Barnardo’s Scotland and up to UK level has been crucial to the smooth running of services. Martin also releases a daily update for staff, keeping the lines of communication open right from the top.
Reaching out beyond his own organisation is also an element of providing services that Martin is keen to highlight: “It is partnerships. I think one of the tendencies in that initial period is to be focused on your own charity and I think one of the real strengths of the voluntary sector, and maybe particularly the children’s voluntary sector, is we do genuinely work together. I think now is the time that we need to be as responsive and cooperative as we possibly can be because that’s what children, young people and families need from us”.