Matthew, 11, and his little brother Ciaran, 9, were frequently missing school and it was causing real concern. The brothers were absent up to three days a week and when they did come into school, they were always late. As a result, both boys were falling way behind with their school work. It was obvious that something was going on at home which was contributing to their attendance problems.
I reached out to the boys’ mum, Mariana, to see if I could help the family address the issues which were causing their poor attendance. Mariana had been offered support in the past, but hadn’t engaged with the school nor any external services and was reluctant to ask for help with the issues she was facing. Over time, I started to build a relationship with Mariana. I met her for informal chats in the playground and the school reception as well as phoning her when the boys were absent from school. As I gained Mariana’s trust, she began opening up to me about the difficulties she was facing and how low she was feeling.
Mariana and her sons had recently been evicted from their home due to a loss of benefits and resulting rent arrears. As such, she was forced to move into her disabled uncle’s house with Matthew and Ciaran. Mariana was her uncle’s full-time carer and had moved into her previous house so she could be near enough to provide the care he needed. The resulting long and expensive journey to school was one of the reasons the boys were often absent or late. The rent on his flat was being paid by the council, but as soon as Mariana and the boys moved in, the council stopped paying the rent, even though Mariana did not work.
In order to pay the rent, Mariana took a job in a local clothes shop. She enjoyed working and the feeling that she was doing something for herself, but found that it was impossible to manage on the low wages she was receiving. It was also difficult to find appropriate care for the boys and her uncle when she was working evening shifts. Ultimately, Mariana had to leave her job, and was left in a situation where she had no job and was receiving no benefits.
I helped Mariana to write a letter to the benefits agency to ensure she was able to receive support again. With her permission, I referred Mariana to other agencies for support with housing and financial issues and attended these meetings with her. I also applied to the SHS Welfare Fund to cover the costs of the boys’ travel to and from school for a month to ease the pressure on Mariana while we worked on an application to the council to provide free school travel.
Matthew was entering his last year at primary school and the additional stress of having to move schools soon was making it difficult for him to concentrate in class. I worked with Matthew and Mariana to get him booked onto open days at secondary schools in the area and supported Mariana through the process of applying. I also organised a tour of their first preference secondary school as they had missed the open day.
Since I started working with the family, Mariana has been more willing to engage with the school and seek support from outside agencies when she needs it. Mariana’s resilience is much better; she is now far more comfortable coping with difficult situations and has a better understanding of how she can support Matthew and Ciaran’s education. I have seen significant improvement in the boys’ attendance and punctuality and I’m proud of how far the family have come since I started working with them. They have recently completed six weeks without missing a single lesson, as well as attending a breakfast club most mornings. Both boys are making good progress academically, and Matthew is looking forward to starting at his new school soon.
*All names have been changed