Date published: 15 May 2017 by Anna Jackson
Zak from our West London Care Team tells us what it means to be a Family Support Worker and how you can help more families up and down the country.
I’ve been working for Rainbow Trust for the past five years and I love making a difference in people’s lives. My team is also a big part of why I love my job. We support each other and can pick each other up if we’ve had a sad day with families.
Driving to appointments
I support families by taking them to the hospital so they don’t have to worry about travelling with a sick child on public transport or about traffic and finding parking - all of these little things mean a more pressured day. We all know how stressful driving in London can be so I can take some of that stress out of the day by collecting the family, driving them to hospital, being responsible for the logistics and providing an opportunity for parents and children to discuss what is planned for that day.
Spending time in hospital
I spend time with families on the ward too - appointments can take all day; they get pushed back or cancelled, nothing is within the family’s control so I help out by sitting with the sick child to give mum or dad a break. A lot of treatments need the child to fast but when appointments are delayed, parents have to keep a grumpy and hungry child distracted. I can chat to them and be another someone to talk to with different conversation and new games to play while they wait. It’s hard for parents – they worry about what their child is about to go through and what they want to ask the doctor as well as keeping upbeat or positive for the child.
Being there for the whole family
I also spend time with siblings at the hospital and keep them entertained. I can take them to the playroom or sit with them while they do their homework. It’s one less thing for the families to think about while looking after their sick child. One of the mums I support is seriously ill herself so I help with carrying things and can give her a break by spending time with her sick teenage son. She is already tired being on chemotherapy herself so having me there to help, makes a big difference.
Helping parents cope
As a Family Support Worker I also provide emotional support to parents which gives them a chance to express their concerns, feelings and how they are coping. Dads are different though, they try to be the macho man of the family, the one who can fix it but they can’t. They hide their emotions and don’t want their partners seeing just how much their child’s illness is affecting them. Some relationships fall apart as communication between couples breaks down as they both try to deal with the possibility that their child might die.
I am there for all the family – single dads are very grateful for the support. Having another man to talk to really helps as I have a better understanding of what they are going through. I am not there to judge, I am there to support and that makes a huge difference. For two parent families, dads take comfort knowing that there is someone to support mum and the children while dad has to go out to work.
It is hard seeing parents watching their child go through so much pain and suffering. They feel so helpless knowing they cannot take the pain away. That’s why I love being able to make even the smallest difference.
Why I help families
Many family stories stay with me and one that I have never forgotten was a family whose four year little boy was told there was nothing the doctors could do for him. His parents were told they’d have to turn his life support machines off. I watched them struggle with the idea of choosing to let their child die. They couldn’t do it and I am so happy to say, he is now a happy and healthy little eight year old. Children are so strong even when they seem to have nothing left to fight with.
I love seeing the children’s smiles in my company and I love seeing their faces light up when they’re having fun. A Rainbow Trust corporate partner recently gave some of our London families a day to Wembley. We spent the day with them at the stadium and they all had a fantastic time. One of the mums of the children who came with us called me after to thank me for the day. She told me that her son had been a little poorly later that week and had to be admitted to the hospital. He spent the entire time telling doctors and nurses about his fun day at Wembley with Rainbow Trust. I love hearing things like that. I love being a part of that.
You can be part of this too by becoming a sponsor. Just a few pounds a month could help fund a Family Support Worker like Zak and help more families get the vital support they need.