Our sixth guest blogger, Philippa Kemp, kindly provides an insight into Supporting BAME families in Edinburgh through COVID

We are a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, encompassing social workers, art therapists and community education workers, offering specialist support to vulnerable, disadvantaged BAME children and parents in Edinburgh. We are also a social work training agency.

Lockdown started during the busiest time at MCFB. We had 9 students on placement, we were running weekly groups within schools and communities across Edinburgh and making regular home visits to families.  Lockdown forced us to adapt quickly to home based working, replacing visits and group meetings with video and phone calls, substantially increasing our reliance on technology. We have adapted, albeit until recently without our student colleagues as part of our workforce, but what has been the impact of the pandemic on families?

Social isolation, racism, poverty, sub-standard housing, domestic violence, mental health difficulties: all were present amongst the BAME families we support prior to the pandemic, but have been exacerbated by the arrival of COVID, which for many has led to a loss of income, reduced support options and a lack of confidence to venture outdoors. One ten-year-old boy spent the whole of lockdown in his high rise flat due to his parent’s fear of the virus.  

Families whom we used to visit have been feeling lonely and isolated; those whose extended families live in countries, harder hit and less well resourced, are worried about Covid outbreaks there. We know that many BAME families were frightened to leave the house during lockdown because they knew they were at higher risk of Covid. Children were therefore confined indoors for long periods and lacked opportunities to exercise or engage in any physical play. Some families are having issues with neighbours preventing access to shared gardens. One parent with two children under 7 and in her third trimester is in temporary accommodation that requires her to walk up 113 steps (6 flights of stairs). Her children have had to change school, and at a time when she should be getting ready for her baby’s arrival, she is anxiously trying to find suitable accommodation for herself and her children.  Another lone parent on furlough from her part time job has no recourse to public funds, is in need of financial help and is in imminent need of housing as her private landlord has given her notice to leave. She needs emergency funding to buy food for herself and her child – a strong parallel to the case of Mercy Beguma.

Through regular and consistent communication, we develop an understanding of the challenges and difficulties in parents’ lives. We try to convey the message that we are there for them and that difficulties can be overcome. This can alleviate feelings of isolation and enable them to process emotions and foster an increased sense of well-being, making them more emotionally available to their children as they are ‘held’ by one of us.

“We felt lost at the start of lockdown living with my brother in law, pregnant. We didn’t know who to turn to. We were referred to the housing department and we presented the letter our worker prepared for us. We were offered temporary accommodation where I was able to prepare for the birth of my baby. I received help to get a Moses Basket, blankets and new-born clothes. I spoke to my worker almost every day. She was in touch when my baby was born. I knew she wants the best for us and has helped us, even through the Child Protection process with Social Work. I’m enjoying sharing with other mothers in my weekly baby group online”.

‘E’, a Romanian new mother and Early Years service user

A large part of the support work involves practical direct action or advocacy to work towards resolution of a difficulty. This might involve writing a letter to apply for emergency food, housing, hardship funds or help acquiring a cot, play material or school uniform. Much of our work also involves working with or referring to other professionals, e.g. to resolve benefit issues or get help finding employment after redundancy.

Poverty is a huge issue, as is communicating with services like benefits and housing.

When supporting families to complete complicated application forms for benefits or housing, we are often required to contact another agency who is able to provide an interpreter to obtain all necessary information and avoid any delays. Having direct and funded access to interpreting and translation services would significantly reduce the time families might wait for immediate supplies.

Providing people with access to IT is laudable. However, many people are unfamiliar with how to use it. Most benefit applications require complex information and a confidence with English and IT. Families are unable to access welfare benefits advice quickly when CABs are closed and benefits correspondence requires swift replies. There have been a number of funding resources made available during Covid. Some of these were easy and straightforward to access, others less so. All however were dependant on referral.  Having a system with more choice of access might enable service users to exercise their own agency, and avoid agencies inadvertently disempowering them. As an agency we have learned a lot about flexibility and adaptability. With student social workers being allowed to return to their practice placements we are now passing on our learning to them. We are moving forward in this new normal and finding imaginative and innovative ways of providing support to vulnerable BAME families in Edinburgh.

Philippa Kemp

Office and Communications Manager at Multi-Cultural Family Base, September 2020

http://www.mcfb.org.uk/projects, http://@MCFB1