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Cholmondeley Calls On Canterbury To Support Vulnerable Local Children

A year on from Aotearoa’s nationwide lockdown, Covid-19 is continuing to impact the lives of vulnerable children and their whanau in Canterbury. Cholmondeley Children’s Centre in Governors Bay is witnessing the ongoing psychosocial impacts first-hand and is re-igniting its Little Gems Awareness Month this May to support Canterbury’s at-risk tamariki.

General Manager Robyn Wallace says that Cholmondeley is excited to bring Little Gems back to support local children and whānau who are facing stress, trauma and crisis.

“We are excited to see the community rally behind fellow Canterbury families again during this Little Gems Awareness Month. Demand has always been high for the Centre’s support however we are seeing increasing numbers of at-risk families who need us now more than ever. With our costs increasing, particularly staffing costs due to being unable to host our international volunteers during the pandemic, and as an 80 percent community-funded charity, we are more reliant on the community’s generosity and ongoing donations to be there for our region’s tamariki,” she says.

After supporting families facing psychosocial issues from the ongoing stressors of the Canterbury earthquakes, Cholmondeley anticipated there would be longer-term impacts for vulnerable whānau as a result of Covid-19.

“Families we work with were already struggling prior to the earthquakes and COVID-19 and are now facing additional pressures such as reduced work or redundancy and continued isolation from extended whānau. As time goes on this constant stress and anxiety impacts the families ability to cope and adapt to change, leading to increased mental and physical health issues for children and caregivers. From the traumatic events Canterbury has faced over the past 10 years, Cholmondeley has seen an increase in challenging child behaviours placing additional stress on the family unit and requiring additional 1-1 support during their respite with Cholmondeley. With tailored, wrap-around support, the Cholmondeley team work collectively to strengthen the whole family providing on-site social workers, teacher and care staff, Cholmondeley specialises in supporting children through crisis and change” Wallace says.

One of the families Cholmondeley is supporting is Ferne: a 64-year-old grandma who cares for seven of her grandchildren. Her daughter struggled with drug issues and family harm, but is now in recovery and studying at university. Ferne expressed her concerns to Oranga Tamariki and when faced with the prospect of her grandchildren being split up and put into foster care, Ferne chose to take them in full-time. Two months after taking the children in, Ferne’s husband passed away after a long illness, placing additional stress on her and prompting her to reach out for help.

“It’s certainly not what I expected to be doing at this stage in my life. It was an awful time, just terrible. At the start when I took the children in, I was exceedingly stressed. Oranga Tamariki and my doctor both mentioned Cholmondeley, so I just picked up the phone and gave them a call,” she says.

Her two grandsons aged 11 and 12, and granddaughters aged 8 and 10 have been visiting Cholmondeley for four years now, each receiving specialised support to cope with trauma and anxiety, and build their resilience and confidence. Ferne has seen her grandchildren develop coping skills, form friendships and become comfortable with being away from home and trying new activities.

“I love how they have developed socially over the past few years since going to Cholmondeley. Cholmondeley is my backstop. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have that,” she says.

Following lockdown, the children have visited Cholmondeley more frequently to give Ferne time to deal with being made redundant in September 2020. Ferne also has her 15-year-old, one-year-old and two-year-old grandchildren in her care and says that it is essential for her and the family unit to have a break to improve the dynamics of the household.

“I had been there for 25 years and I was just so worried about how I was going to survive, money wise. The fact that Cholmondeley is there just means so much to me. It is such a huge relief to have a break”, she says.

Cholmondeley is the only community-based children’s respite care and education centre in Aotearoa, with 500-plus tamariki staying at the centre in Governors Bay each year. The centre also designs whānau support plans to alleviate stressors at home, assist caregivers with parenting, and facilitate connections to additional supports in collaboration with other organisations in the community.

Cholmondeley’s Little Gems Month kicks off today and includes Sparkle and Shine: a night of casual elegance on 15 May, a Street Appeal on 21 and 22 May and the Denim and Diamonds School Mufti Day on 27 May.

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