Laura Ferreira (MSc Public Health – Environment and Health, 2011) is the Scheme-Manager at Home-Start Wandsworth. In this blog piece, she speaks about how she is helping vulnerable families through this pandemic.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your work?
At Home-Start Wandsworth we deliver early intervention in the form of tailored practical and emotional support for families with children from pregnancy to age 5. This early-years support improves parent-infant bonding, family relationships, physical and mental health, child development, and living circumstances. We work specifically with families facing difficulties that impact on the health and wellbeing of both parents and children, including long term health conditions, homelessness, lack of support networks, lack of self-confidence, and mental health issues including anxiety and post-natal depression.
Because of COVID-19 we have seen the profound effects of loneliness and isolation and worsening mental health. Families that rely on the National Health Service to manage long term conditions have found their care disrupted. We have more families than ever before experiencing food poverty, and some parents are struggling to cope at home with their children for such a long period.
The social distancing measures in the UK mean that we are currently unable to offer our usual intensive home visits, face-to-face peer support, and wellbeing activities.
How have you been responding to the outbreak?
Our staff and network of trained volunteers adapted quickly to offer support remotely. We have moved our weekly visits and peer-support groups online to connect with people via text, phone, and video calls. Remote support is proving effective, and as lockdown eases, we are also offering outdoor visits where appropriate.
We have also begun directly sourcing and delivering essential supplies for families, providing packs of art materials to nurture creativity and connection, and compiling accessible resources to support parenting and inform those in need about local services including domestic abuse and crisis services.
The power of kindness and connection to combat the effects of fear, anxiety, isolation and loneliness is apparent in our work, and is needed during the pandemic, now more than ever. Regular connection with a trusted service also acts as an important safety net for families facing more and different challenges as lockdown goes on.
How has your county’s response to the outbreak affected your work?
We have been able to follow the published government guidance, and new provisions for families facing financial difficulty have been useful, but overwhelmingly the most vulnerable families that we support are relying on the voluntary and community response network to get through this crisis. The grassroots community mobilisation we have seen in the UK since the outbreak has been astonishing.
How has LSHTM’s training helped you during this outbreak?
It has been hugely beneficial. A solid understanding of a range of public health issues, critical analysis skills, systems thinking, and an evidence-based approach, all nurtured by LSHTM, have been a huge advantage in defining our role in the response and shaping our strategic direction. It has also been helpful in engaging effectively with the health service and wider community response.
I regularly use the research skills and analytical thinking gained at LSHTM to understand problems, measure our impact, and inform decision-making for the benefit of our community. Being able to do those things at speed as part of the pandemic response, and meet ever-changing challenges, has been a true asset.
It is hugely inspiring to read about the pandemic-response work of LSHTM and alumni across the globe, and a privilege to remain connected to this network. I wish everybody well!