Work In Their Shoes with Sophie - Family Support

28 February 2019

Hello! I’m Sophie, and I work in the Marketing Team at Demelza. My role is to share the wonderful goings on here, from children, families, volunteers, fundraisers and more. I find it a real privilege to get to know the people of #TeamDemelza, as everyone comes with a unique story.

This year, inspired by our #NewYearNewYou campaign, I set myself a challenge to spend a day every month with one of the many teams that make up our organisation. Through a programme we have for staff called ‘Work in Their Shoes’, I’ll be showing you the many different facets it takes to make up Demelza as a whole, and recording it in a vlog.

For the month of February, I spent my day working in the Dr Martens of Courtney, a Family Support Worker based at Demelza’s Kent hospice. The words Family Support may seem like a pretty broad umbrella term, as supporting families is the very essence of what Demelza does ‘on the tin’. My day with Courtney showed me that the purpose of her team is not so easy to describe in simple terms.

We agreed to meet just after 8am so we could head out to visit a family at home. Courtney does a lot of work with siblings, who often find it difficult to process the complicated emotions that come with having a brother or sister who has complex needs. It’s not just about the demands for the focus and attention of parents or carers – there’s often guilt, fear and anxiety in the mix too, which is not an easy thing to bear as a young person navigating ordinary growing pains.

I met nine-year-old Kaddesha, her brother Mo, 11, and their mum Laura. We talked for more than an hour about their story and how Demelza fits into their lives, in the form of Courtney. Mo recently started secondary school and Courtney’s support is helping the school to understand his situation and that as a sibling, he needs extra support. "It’s just nice to know that someone is fighting your corner with you,” Laura said. Dad Dawda joined us later and shared the same sentiment, telling me: “Mo can talk to Courtney about things he doesn’t feel he can say to us.”

Laura awarded Courtney the highest compliment in her book, describing her as ‘real’. Speaking as a mother, Laura confessed that she doesn’t really like a lot of people, and is protective of her family. I got the impression that having a consistent presence in their lives that they feel they can trust to talk to – and that Mo can open up to – is a true comfort. When we said our goodbyes, I was beyond touched to receive the seal of approval from mum, whose parting words were: “I like you; you’re real.”

When we left to drive to our next stop, Courtney explained the breadth of her role and the level of involvement with families. Firstly, she is not to be confused with a counsellor, as Family Support offer a different kind of emotional support in the form of listening sessions. Whilst one could argue that the empathy and warmth Courtney brings to her day job could almost be a form of therapy by itself, her objectives are to help give families gentle nudges in the right direction. “My job isn’t to do everything for families,” she mused, “it’s to help give them the confidence and resilience to do it for themselves.”

Secondly, it became very clear why Family Support is a tricky one to sum up concisely: no two families are the same. Even when faced with a similar situation their stories are completely different each and every time, which demands a unique and personal approach, each and every time. After sharing a lunch of egg sandwiches, a pot of tea and a slice of chocolate cake, I realised I had much more in common with Courtney than a food order (and a shoe size). It’s fair to say that if you work for a cause like Demelza, you’ve probably heard something like “I don’t know how you do it,” or ”that must be so hard”. When you spend your days supporting vulnerable people, it’s important that you get support too.

Whilst I feel beyond privileged to be in a position to talk intimately with families who receive support from Demelza, the Family Support team are, unsurprisingly, the ones who are often by their side during the most crucial and difficult moments. We had a wonderful discussion about the importance of self-care and looking after your mental health in the workplace. Turns out tea and cake really can fix a lot of things.

Back at the Kent hospice, we met with another family in the TIZ room. Mum Jude brought daughters Aimee, 12 and Willow, who is six, to catch up with Courtney. It’s their elder brother Jamie, 16, who lives with a complex condition, but the impact is felt by everyone in the family.

We talked about their needs as siblings, and like Mo, they value having Courtney’s assistance with school matters. The girls also make use of sibling groups and enjoy Art Therapy. Aimee in particular finds comfort and kinship in making friends ‘who get it’, and when life is tough, Courtney’s there. Aimee said, “If you’re having problems at school, it’s someone else to talk to.” When the conversation turned to future career goals, Jude told us that Aimee wants to be a medic someday. When pressed for comment, Willow divulged that she aspired to play hide and seek for a living.

Wrapping up the day in the office, Courtney caught up with her paperwork whilst I seized the chance to learn more from her colleague, Zoe. Whilst on the surface it may seem to some that it’s all cups of tea and chit-chat, the work that goes into delivering that personal support for each family is truly phenomenal – and very, very carefully planned out.

Zoe explained the journey of support the team provide from the first time they meet a family to assess their needs, and how they determine how to help them - whether that’s through advocacy work, signposting or bereavement support – always reassuring families that Demelza is more than the word ‘hospice’. The team are well-versed in looking at the bigger picture. “We work with families on building their resilience, confidence and self-esteem up to deal with difficult or crisis situations,” Zoe told me, “even if that is just calling to ask for help.”

The teams utilise their professional networks to provide the best-rounded support they can, and this can go beyond schools to housing and other service providers and charities.

I couldn’t let Courtney leave without a parting gift – my signature biscuit and highest accolade; the Jammie Dodger. I learned so much from my day with her and, not unlike the families who hold her in such high esteem, I feel like I’ve made a firm friend.

I recorded a vlog during my day in Courtney’s shoes – head over to Facebook and give it a watch! It features an exclusive interview conducted by six-year-old Willow…

Until next time,