BLOG: A constant for parents and toddlers in temporary accommodation
The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families has been shortlisted in the 2017 London Homelessness Awards for our work with people affected by homelessness. We know that issues which can cause difficulties for any family can prove even more challenging in an environment of temporary or insecure accommodation.
One of the services we provide is our Parent Toddler Group which is delivered at England's Lane Hostel in North London. Here the toddler’s development is promoted in all areas of his or her personality though talk and play. This helps reduce any difficulties the toddler may have with sleeping, eating, sharing or aggression, all while supporting the parent-toddler relationship.
Dr Eva Crasnow, is the group leader at the centre's Parent-Toddler Group.
Thursdays are a good day in my week, as that’s the day I head over to England’s Lane Hostel in North London to run a parent-toddler group for children aged 1-4 and their parents living in temporary accommodation. Getting to play with toddlers is always lots of fun, and making relationships with families is incredibly rewarding.
The reason for running a parent-toddler group at England’s Lane is to provide support for the developmental stage of toddlerhood. The issues facing toddlers and their parents are how to learn to manage big feelings, such as anger and shame; and get used to comings and goings, as the toddler starts to get bigger and experiences moving away from their parent more and more. Everyday tasks such as bedtimes, toilet training, tantrums, playing and sharing are all learned during this period of life. This is very challenging for all families –but when you are living in a tiny space, with little opportunity to get a break from each other, as well as managing the stress of tackling the inequalities of homelessness, toddler development can feel like an even steeper hill to climb.
We run the group to provide families with a larger space to play together in, so parents and toddlers can have the experience of enjoying some time together, where the stress of everyday life can, we hope, take a back seat even for a little bit. I am a child psychotherapist and the other staff helping with the group are all trained in child development, so any questions about development can be explored with experienced and well trained staff. The best help comes from other parents, and we often have group discussions about toddler topics, such as stopping nappies, saying no and starting nursery. As well as facing the multiple challenges set by homelessness, some families we work with have had traumatic experiences, and have associated difficulties with mood or anxiety. As a mental health professional, I am able to support families to access relevant support for improving their emotional well-being as required.
What makes the Parent-Toddler Group at England’s Lane stand out is its longevity, we have had a group there for over 10 years. In today’s climate of cuts to public services, a group that continues to run as a place for families to come together is unusual. We feel very strongly that a long running group has a therapeutic function in a hostel for homeless families. It offers another experience for families who are often made to move at short notice, and endure changing policies and staff in the agencies they depend on such as housing and welfare. The group can be a constant in the changeability and temporary culture that can colour family lives.