Radhika Holmström visited a KidsTime Workshop in February. She gives us some of her first impressions.
For me, visiting my first KidsTime Workshop in February 2018, the thing that struck me most was the sheer honesty with which the parents talked about their situation, and their concerns for their children.
It was a fairly usual session: a relatively small group of parents, children and teenagers – most of whom knew each other well, and clearly got a great deal out of meeting regularly and sharing their experiences. At the same time, everyone was strikingly friendly towards me, a newcomer – I didn’t feel in any way excluded. The first half-hour or so was a bustle of children running around madly, the slow organisation into ice-breaker games (“what do you find it hard to talk about?” “Money,” I admitted, rather to my own surprise in front of this group of strangers) and then listening to two of the facilitators talking frankly about their own family history.
And so to the divided sessions. I sat and listened to parents talking about their worries for their children, and how the situation at home had affected their children, and how they were trying different things but weren’t sure exactly what to do. It’s not easy to talk about things like that – you’re admitting your own vulnerabilities and indeed the problems you have with parenting – and yet they did it, and nobody judged, and everyone joined in. Some people suggested their ideas for strategies, and others opened up to talk about their own worries and concerns. One or two flagged up other local sources of support for children and young people affected by parental mental illness. Along the way, people remarked that a couple of children were clearly finding life a lot easier recently, and their parents talked about what had worked. And the parents who had started the conversation took up a couple of the ideas for strategies in handling their own children, saying they’d definitely give them a go and could see how they’d work very well.
After that, it was back to pizza (‘very important, the pizza,’ several people told me) and the video the children had made (I felt by now I knew them quite well – which is pretty extraordinary given I’d never seen them till a couple of hours before). It wasn’t a slick stage-school production, but a more important glimpse into their feelings. Nobody tried to pretend that everything was rosy – quite the opposite; but there was also a real sense that everyone – parents and professionals alike – wanted to do their best to help and support these children and teenagers.
I left to catch my train across on the other side of London, and stood on the station platform thinking about the families I’d met. I’d been surprised by how friendly and how open they were. I’d been impressed, too, by how much they clearly got from these regular sessions in a small community room tucked away in a London side-street. I wondered how those parenting strategies will work (and indeed if they might be useful in my own parenting). And I hoped that they’ll be able to go on meeting, and that those parents, children and teenagers will go on being able to feel they have support.
This workshop, like several others, will run out of funds in April due to cuts and lack of support from commissioners – perhaps due to lack of knowledge about the fact that it exists and how important it is to these families — a lifeline in fact.