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How Family Support helped turn Niamh's life around

Niamh and Laura received help from Family Support

“I don’t know where I’d be without the support Zoe gave.” How Family Support helped turn Niamh’s life around.

As we continue our 120 anniversary reflections, we wanted to share the story of Niamh and her family, who received support from our Family Support in Schools Service a few years ago.

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“It’s one of those things you think is never going to happen to you. But it does happen to people like us. It’s a bolt out of the blue and by the time you realise it’s happening you can’t stop it. You don’t know how to.” - Laura

Jonathan and Laura noticed their daughter, Niamh, was scratching her arms and realised she was self-harming. Soon after, her eating habits changed and she lost a lot of weight. Jonathan and Laura took Niamh to see a doctor who diagnosed an eating disorder.

Jonathan and Laura contacted the school for help. The school referred them to Father Hudson’s Family Support worker, Zoe.

Laura said: “Zoe got involved quite early on and she was there from the word ‘go’. She was relentless. She had an answer for everything and if she didn’t, she’d find it.”

Zoe set up regular meetings with Niamh’s parents and all the professionals involved in Niamh’s case, including her psychiatrist, dietician, and school representatives, to see how they could support her. She even included someone from her brother’s school to ensure he was also okay.

Jonathan said: “She chaired meetings and she made sure people turned up for meetings, she took notes and made sure people were accountable for what they said they were going to do. She chased them up as well to make sure they actually carried out what they said they were going to do.”

Where Jonathan and Laura had found themselves facing barriers, Zoe was able to support them to find a way through. Jonathan said: “We tried to find out what the problem was, to learn about it and support Niamh. But Zoe had the power as a working professional to get people to listen to her. She kept things going forward – whether it was a small step or a great bound.”

Jonathan and Laura continued to fight for their daughter, despite facing setbacks. One of the support services involved in Niamh’s case wasn’t taking action, leaving Niamh at risk. Zoe contacted them to press the matter and urge them to act to put things in place.

Laura said: “Zoe actually confronted them and said ‘you’re not doing your job. This girl needs to be in a unit or she’s going to die. You need to do something – this is on you’. She never let us down. She held me up in times when, honestly, I could have stood in front of a bus. I just wanted it all over, but she would not let me give up. She found a way of getting through everything.”

With Zoe’s intervention, a referral was finally made for Niamh to be admitted to a specialist unit in a local hospital. Laura said: “I was so scared because she was my child and I was going to put her in that place. But obviously Zoe wasn’t frightened to do it because it was absolutely the right thing to do. It’s what had to happen to save her.

“Zoe even visited her in hospital. Niamh was in a terrible place when she was in there, it was horrendous. Zoe stayed in touch with her and went to visit her to say, ‘we’re all still out here, we’re all still fighting for you. You’re not forgotten – it’s okay.’”

After a couple of months, Niamh was able to come home.

Zoe worked with the school to make sure Niamh could continue her education from home. She supported Niamh to go in for her exams, and even drove her to them.

When Niamh turned 18, the support from children’s services came to an end. Jonathan said: “This was very traumatic because Niamh was dropped from one service and nothing was there from the other. Zoe was very much at the forefront of getting us into the adult services.”

Niamh successfully passed her A-Levels and is now about to enter her second year at university. She continues to have support from organisations that Zoe found for the family to contact. She is in recovery and is doing well.

Niamh said: “I’m in recovery now and a lot better than I was. I’ve finished my first year at university, studying biology, and I’m getting ready to go back for my second year. University is good

“I never thought this would happen. I never thought I’d be where I am. I didn’t think I’d finish my A-levels or anything.

“Zoe was the only person out of my whole support team who, when I first met her, I didn’t not like. I saw everybody else when I first met them as awful. I hated them. But when I met Zoe I thought, ‘no, you’re helping me, and I like you’. I didn’t see her as an enemy, which was more than anybody else.

“I don’t know where I’d be without the support Zoe gave, I think I’d be a million miles back and probably in an adult ward somewhere.”

Despite the support coming to an end when Niamh left school, the support the family received still impacts them to this day. Jonathan said, “She trained us how to get the best out of the system so we can now do it ourselves. She showed us what you’ve got to do, who you’ve got to speak to, where you’ve got to go and how to make things happen for yourself. She supported the whole family. She wasn’t just there for Niamh; she was there for us all.”

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We would like to thank Jonathan, Laura, and Niamh for sharing their story with us. We are grateful to them for being willing to speak candidly about this difficult topic. If you have been affected by the issues raised, you can find advice and information on the Beat Eating Disorder website

Please note: Names have been changed to protect identities.

Our Family Support Service is one of our services that continues our original work of supporting vulnerable children and young people, by providing help and advice for families facing a wide range of difficulties. By working with families, the Family Support Workers empower children, young people, and parents to overcome barriers and make positive changes in their lives. Read more about our Family Support Service.

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