The journey of the Smith family

A KidsTime Workshop lead tells the story of a family from her workshop.

The Smith family was referred by social care following a presentation to the team managers at a meeting with the leader of the project in December 2016.

Susan, the mother, had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and severe depression and had been under the care of mental health teams for many years. Her then 12-year-old daughter, Alison, was under a ‘child in need’ plan, and her social worker hoped the group would help Alison feel more confident and talk about her mother’s mental health issues, and also help Susan to cope with being a parent when stressed by mental health problems.

At the home visit, Susan, Bob (the father of Susan’s youngest boy, Ryan, aged four) and Alison were present. We initially talked to Susan about the group and were told that Susan and Bob had just separated, though amicably. As Susan’s mental health affected all family members, we invited everyone to attend the first workshop. Bob later told us he was initially suspicious about the workshops as he had been to a number of groups in his life, but he changed his mind over time. Over the last few months he even had the idea of wanting to fundraise for Our Time. He had voiced on a number of occasions that attending KidsTime Workshops had a big impact on the whole family.

Susan, Bob, Alison and Ryan attended all of the KidsTime sessions. Bob has often raised how the group helped them as a family to discuss issues which seem too difficult to talk about before they began attending the group. He said, as a result, the family has started communicating more with each other about other difficult issues. Bob and Susan have come together again in the course of this year.

Susan hardly spoke a word in the initial parenting groups and Ryan, who has a significant speech and language delay, only spoke a few words. Over the first six months Susan felt more and more confident and it was interesting to notice that she paced less and less and even felt safe enough to participate in group activities. In one game, with children and adults, Susan said that one difficult thing in her life was to talk about her problems. Ryan, who was in the middle of the circle, just looked up to her and said the word, “Talk” — a boy who hardly used any words obviously noticed the significance of this interaction. His speech has improved significantly in this last year, as has his behaviour, since he has been able to talk more.

Susan and Bob are now both talking in the parents’ group. They share their experience and worries and support other parents when they bring an issue.

Alison, now 13, has been contributing a lot to the group and has increasingly found her voice in the teen group. She has been able to speak about how difficult things can be for her as a growing teenager. She also mentioned in a discussion between adults and teens that she now feels it is not so much her fault that her mother has mental health problems. This is, as we know from research, a big issue in the minds of children who grow up with parents with mental health problems.

The family also attended an event organised by Our Time to promote the approach and fed back to our KidsTime group how other groups work in London.