New school term excitement. Is that the case for the women and their children at I Choose Freedom?
September is here! Autumn has arrived, as we hold on to the last rays of summer. Back to school for many. New shiny shoes and packed bags lined up in hall ways across the country. New ironed uniform, blazers and coats all waiting to be put on.
The day comes, freshly washed and styled hair. Excitement and nerves. The first day photo by the front door of their home. Kisses and hugs and waves at the gate. This is a typical normal back to school image for many, but not for the children in refuge.
The start of new schools come most weeks for many of our children, as they flee what they know, along with friends, teachers and the classrooms which have been a safe haven for many. A rest from the shouting, hitting, crying and pain.
They arrive with plastic bags filled with the odds and ends of the lives they've left behind. They don't know when they'll be back at school ,where it will be, what the uniform will be like, where the toilets are or where to sit for lunch. Will anyone like them, will their teacher understand when they haven't been able to do their homework.
My priority when a family arrives, is to support mum with school applications. However it takes time for a place to be found, transport to be arranged if required, transport to be appealed for. With siblings, easily being split between many schools, as not one school can take them all. Its tense and drawn out and all the time mum's and children are worrying.
The day comes; uniform is expensive, second hand is found from personal donations or the schools PTA's stock. Mix matched and patched together. Hand me down shoes, no longer needed, are sourced. Their scuffs tell the story of another child's school life, whose feet now have new shoes to wear and who are no longer in need of these lived in ones. PE kit is a luxury, there is hope the school might be able to find something from lost property.
No first day photo taken outside their front door of their home. They have no home. Homeless - awaiting temporary accommodation elsewhere. Another move looms which most likely means yet another new school.
We try to keep it upbeat with tales of new friends to be made, but how will they be able to tell them where they live, no tea dates or birthday parties to be had while they live in refuge as they can't have friends over. Refuge life is kept a secret for their safety and the safety of others living there.
This is the story of the children living with us. We work every day to build relationships and contacts with charities and schools so we can support these children the best we can in these fragile early days.
We have amazing help from stripey stork who help us with pre-loved school shoes and coats and buggies to help mum do the school run with younger siblings. Bags 4 Life provide us with brand new rucksacks filled with brand new goodies, we have a small uniform fund which provides mum with Tesco vouchers to buy some non branded uniform such as polo shirts and skirts/trousers and some schools out of good will, help the children with brand new branded blazers and ties. All of this is hugely appreciated and welcomed.
The children's nerves begin to ease after a school visit and take comfort when they find out another child in the refuge already attends the same school. The refuge IS their home for 6 months and the other residents become their family, albeit unconventional and eclectic. Photos are taken in their uniform and shown to staff, as we all ask how did their first day go? Hoping that they will have had a welcoming smile from their teacher and a hand to take them around the school showing them where everything is. We smile as they tell us of the friendly faces of their new class mates wanting to play with them and what they ate for lunch.
Another child is back in school and although it isn't the most traditional of first days, it is another milestone and another chapter in their lives, as we wave them on their way.
Blog post written by Emma Buchanan - Children's Advocate and Trainee Play Therapist at I Choose Freedom