We believe that every child should be loved and cared for. Our unique approach is to intervene as soon as problems are identified and work with the child for as long as it takes to put things right.
We feel it is important to share our stories which in turn may help other families in similar situations. In all cases, we have the agreement of the families we have worked with to include their stories on our website; names have been changed to provide anonymity. The cases outlined reflect the dedication and commitment of our social workers and counsellors and also underline the great need for the service that they provide.
If you would like to talk to us about anything you have read here, please contact Catherine Munns, who will be happy to help.
One of our practitioners outlines some issues faced by one little boy during lockdown and how they found a special way to communicate
I had been working with Eric for just a few weeks before the first lockdown began in March 2020; his school had referred him to me as they were concerned about his behaviour and progress in class.
Eric seemed to find it very difficult to complete tasks, holding onto the teacher to keep her next to him at all times, and when she wasn’t, he would wander about, shouting and sometimes hiding under the table. Eric’s mum Lena told me his behaviour at home was also challenging; he often refused to follow simple instructions and she felt like she was walking on eggshells, every battle threatening to turn into a “meltdown”.
Lena felt that Eric had struggled since his parents separated two years before, Eric now having very occasional visits with his dad, who was in a new relationship and had a new baby. When lockdown began and the schools closed, Lena told me she wasn’t sure how they would cope together at home all day, how she would manage his meltdowns as well as her own worries for her job and her family’s safety. We agreed to set up regular phone calls for us to talk, as well as weekly Zoom sessions for Eric.
In our early online sessions, Eric seemed very “scattered”; he would struggle to stay in front of the screen, disappear under the table, slam the laptop shut or switch the camera off. This “chaotic” feeling gave me a sense that Eric was feeling out of control inside without the routine of school and perhaps picking up on the uncertainty of adults about this new and unsettling situation.
On screen, I would bring Tiger, Eric’s favourite puppet from our school sessions, who would play and talk with Sharky, a small plastic shark that Eric brought along. “I’m going to bite you!” Sharky would growl fiercely through Eric. “Oh no, that’s so scary!” Tiger would cry through me. I wondered with Eric whether Sharky was feeling angry, or sad and missing his friend, perhaps wanting to bite off a piece of him to keep. By talking through the animals, we were able to explore some of Eric’s difficult feelings at a safe distance; providing him with the vocabulary of feelings enabled Eric to identify and understand his emotions - making them seem more manageable - a process we call “name it to tame it”.
In our phone calls, Lena and I thought together about ways to support Eric by replacing the missing structure of the school day. Together they made a visual timetable of his home routine and Lena marked on a calendar so Eric could see when he would next visit with dad. By working to make things more predictable for Eric where she could, Lena noted that Eric seemed more at ease, more able to trust in her and less like he needed to take control. In our Zoom sessions too Eric appeared more settled, now creating longer stories with a collection of his sharks which he presented like episodes of a TV show he called “Sharkworld”.
Back together in school in the Autumn term we continued our sessions, thinking together about the many changes in school but also recognising what had stayed the same, such as his friendships. Eric’s new class teacher found that although he still liked to check in with her regularly, he seemed more confident and able to try new tasks by himself, showing a developing ability to trust in adults and so feeling safer to explore new things.
Right now, we find ourselves once more in lockdown, and Eric and I are back together on Zoom. Season 2 of “Sharkworld” has been an eventful one so far, with sudden attacks and dramatic battles between the sharks, orchestrated with much glee by Eric. But through the show he has also begun to be the teacher, explaining about the different sharks, their skills, likes and dislikes. I am captivated not only by the stories but also by his growing sense of confidence and identity. We don’t know how many more episodes are to come this season, but while the show is on the air, there are many exciting adventures to be had!
Before telling Jack's story, we would like to thank his mum for allowing us to share their family's experience.
'My son Jack was struggling to deal with everyday situations at school and outside of the home. He was often unable to talk when he felt uncomfortable and relationships with teachers and unfamiliar adults were difficult. This sometimes resulted in angry or aggressive behaviour toward his family, after school or following uncomfortable situations he’d had to deal with during his day.
Jack had various assessments with speech and language specialists prior to counselling. We were told he may be suffering from selective mutism and social anxiety and were given various worksheets and advice but nothing seemed to help him.
We first met with a BCCS counsellor in January following a recommendation from my son’s school. My husband and I were both open minded and hopeful but as we had already failed to find help for Jack previously we were also a little dubious about what counselling would achieve.
The counsellor was very good at immediately putting us at ease and seemed to quickly get an understanding of our situation. After a few sessions, strategies were put in place to alter our behaviour at home to benefit Jack. After just a few weeks we realised this was not only helping Jack but also the whole family.
The family environment became calmer as we put into practice the strategies suggested. With the counsellor’s insight into Jack’s emotions we started to understand why he displayed the behaviour he did and that made coping with it easier, in turn making him feel more secure in himself.
Jack is now becoming a happier, more content little boy. Although sometimes a little shy, he now communicates with ease at school and is definitely more comfortable in unfamiliar situations which would have previously seen him shut down. He seems better equipped to cope with life and no longer being of concern at school is a goal we were doubtful we would ever reach and certainly not so quickly.
The relationship we have with the BCCS counsellor is one of trust and understanding and we have all greatly benefited from her knowledge and advice. She has been reassuring throughout our sessions and we have always felt we can be honest and open with her. The support of BCCS has been invaluable and we will be forever grateful to them.'
We know that children who have witnessed or experienced domestic abuse will often feel angry, guilty, powerless, alone and frightened.
Jayne was 8 when she was referred to us; she was withdrawn, easily startled and complained regularly about physical symptoms such as stomach aches. Her mum was worried about the effects on Jayne of the abuse she herself had suffered and that Jayne had witnessed.
Jayne met with her counsellor and began to tell her story about how she had been spat and shouted at and how she felt as if she had done something wrong.
During one session, Jayne drew a picture which depicted the abuse that her mother had experienced. This picture became the very thing that we were able to use to talk safely to Jayne about her experiences of feeling unsafe, scared and alone.
Our job is to know children and because of this, we know that they blame themselves for any ill treatment they experience at the hands of adults; we know that we need to help support a child to understand that they are not in the wrong and that grown-ups are not always right and can sometimes make mistakes.
Our therapist used puppets and art materials to gently support Jayne to talk about what she felt had happened and in doing this, she started to understand and become free of the negative experiences and to begin to heal.
Jayne is now a lively, bright and engaging young girl who understands that she is 'good' and is free from the guilt and destructive memories.
Often it is the child's teacher who first alerts us to a change in a child's behaviour.
Holly is 14 years old and the eldest of four children.
She was referred to us as staff at school had noticed that her attitude and behaviour had recently deteriorated. Ordinarily a quiet and polite girl, she had started being rude to teachers and disruptive in lessons. This had resulted in her being excluded from classes and an increasing number of lunchtime and after school detentions.
When the school contacted her parents, it was discovered that Holly's mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer two months previously. The unexpected diagnosis and the immediate medical intervention that followed had so preoccupied her parents that they had not thought to inform the school of this development. They were grateful for the school's suggestion that Holly be given the opportunity to have access to an immediate source of professional counselling from BCCS.
At our first session together it was apparent that Holly did not feel comfortable coming to see me. She presented as an angry and unhappy girl and she made it clear that she had only attended our session because she had been told to. She initially found it very difficult to accept that our contact might help her, saying "it's just for nutters and saddos".
Nevertheless, with gentle encouragement, she continued attending our sessions and over time was able to express her fears and concerns for the future. Being the eldest of the children, she became very protective of her two brothers and one sister and this did cause some friction at home. We used our sessions to explore this and developed strategies together, which enabled her to manage her anger and fear more effectively. This was done in conjunction with regular contact with her parents and liaison with school staff who knew her best.
The first stage of her mother's treatment is now complete and, so far, the prognosis is good. Holly seems to have calmed down at school and at home and is more able to manage her feelings of anger and fear. The family still face a difficult road ahead but know that they can rely on the support of the school and the Society for as long as it is needed.