Our Toy Appeal is hugely important for the families we support, but often it’s just one piece of a complex jigsaw of support – like the icing on the cake or the bow that wraps the present. Here parent Clare* tells us how our Young Carer’s service helped both her and her daughter on a journey toward wellness, and how the Toy Appeal topped it off.
Looking back on the period after my daughter was born it’s like a dream or a past life… I’m not in that place anymore. I had a severe case of post-natal depression that went undiagnosed for a really long time, as well as fibromyalgia and chronic migraines. It was awful, and I don’t know how I survived it… There was no escape from level ten pain every day… That was my life for five years.
Tension within the household
It went undiagnosed for two years, maybe more, and I had no idea I was depressed… I just felt like my daughter and her elder brother were being really difficult. They’ve always been like chalk and cheese, and my mental health illness made it very hard for me to parent them and nurture their relationship. My son has autism and it’s been a hard journey to work through a lot of the issues that neurodivergent families have.
My journey back to normal
It was hard for me to manage as, even once I was diagnosed, I was only just starting my journey back to getting better, and when my daughter was four or five and starting primary school I was still pretty much bedridden. I was just ticking over, doing the laundry and cooking dinner, but just kind of doing the bare minimum to get by. It was a hugely traumatic time, it had an effect on everyone, and it’s been a long journey back to normal.
Family Action’s Young Carers Service
While I was healing, I was helped by Family Action’s Young Carers service coming into our lives
While I was healing, I was helped by Family Action’s Young Carers service coming into our lives when my daughter was in around year four of Primary school.
The service gave her a way to come out of herself and find her own space away from caring for her brother or me, her mum, as it hosts a wellness course for a few days where they teach children things like breathing techniques to help them when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
I found it really interesting as it mirrored the journey I’d been on as, for me, a large part of my healing was mental and spiritual, engaging with things like my diet, my faith and yoga. My daughter also loved the wellness days the service runs. They meet at a sports centre along with other young carers and go out for the day, doing activities such as rafting or rock climbing. All the kids get to switch off and be themselves for the day and get closer to nature.
Nature as a space for recovery
I was suspicious at first as she’s not very sporty and, on the very first day they were doing rafting, I thought “she’ll hate it” but one of the team said “I’ll get on the raft if you get on”, and she loved it! The days were a great way for her to come out of herself and inhabit her own space.
Again, I was struck by how much we had in common as nature was incredibly important in my recovery and, even though we live on a council estate, I still go out and immerse myself in nature every day, without fail, even if it’s snowing and raining.
Caring and consideration
Sometimes when my son is struggling a lot of the focus in the house is spent micromanaging him and it means that my daughter can be left to one side because there’s a lot going on and I’m having to firefight. It was comforting knowing that there was somebody else out there that was taking my daughter’s wellbeing into consideration.
It was comforting knowing that there was somebody else out there that was taking my daughter’s wellbeing into consideration
I was also happy it wasn’t a social worker, because there’s a lot of stigma and fear there, and a lot of negative connotations – especially since, because of my son, it’s not uncommon to have the police knocking on the door.
Practical and emotional support
Having the young carers service involved was also an emotional support system during a difficult time – as during that point my marriage to my husband was coming to an end.
The service gave us practical support with things like helping us find free school uniforms for the children. We might have been able to afford it, but it was another thing that was on my mental list, and it would have involved discussions about finance with my partner at a delicate time.
Family Action told me “I’m going to take care of that for you because I can see she needs it”, and it was nice to have someone take the lead for a bit.
Recognition through the Toy Appeal
It was just really nice for them to get something and know that there’s someone out there who’s thinking of them
That’s sort of how I feel about the gifts we got from the Toy Appeal last Christmas. On the day the service turned up with the gifts I was on the brink of tears because of the situation with my marriage.
I was really upset and having them turn up with the gifts just made me feel supported. They were really nice practical presents – they weren’t tacky or cheap; I think they got nice pyjamas, a book and chocolates. It was just really nice for them to get something and know that there’s someone out there who’s thinking of them.
Every year, Family Action’s Toy Appeal brings joy into the homes of families that are facing difficulties. You can help make this Christmas even more magic, and show children like Clare’s the appreciation they so deserve.
*Name changed at the request of the interviewee