This week marked 365 days since England’s first lockdown. Within days of Boris Johnson’s announcement back in March 2020, LOOK had set up the LOOK Parent Support Group, to offer support, friendship and a safe space for parents of Visually Impaired children and young people. We held our first session on Friday the 27th of March, 2020.
Together with our community, we reflect upon all that has past in the last 12 months; what have we learned? What made us laugh? What had us in tears? What will we take with us as we face an uncertain future?
Parent Support Group facilitator, trainer specialising in the SEND journey and Mum Jane Ring (pictured above with daughter Chloe and Buddy Dog, Sapphire) shares her thoughts:
What can we do?
‘A year ago Look UK responded to the lock down and global pandemic by asking ‘what can we do?’
The heart felt response was so genuine and Charlotte and I caught up on the phone. I must have suggested a virtual support group because that is what I felt I needed. I wanted to connect with other parent carers who were suddenly asked to become their child’s TA and help them access their learning at home. I felt overwhelmed and inadequate and knew I wouldn’t be alone.
We were being asked to come face-to-face with the barriers that our beloved children face at school everyday. Suddenly the people who we were used to engaging with, who champion our children and support their inclusion in the world were cut off from us. The isolation for our children was so painful and I realised I needed to find a place where I could talk about it safely with other people who just knew. I also offered to facilitate the group as I have had face-to-face, parent support training and am used to facilitating groups at work and helping everyone have their voice.
Share and Support
The community that has been built from the group is incredible. There have been some sessions where really difficult topics have been discussed but the support, advice and care shown by the group have made it bearable. We are all at different stages of parenting our visually impaired children. Some of our children have complex needs, some have mental health issues, some are isolated from their friends at mainstream school. We all have slightly different stories to tell but we listen, offer support and concentrate on the things we can do.
Not everyone has their camera on, and that’s ok. No one ever has to speak, sometimes just turning up has been enough. There have been times when my internet has frozen just at the point where someone was sharing something significant. It never mattered as the rest of the group were busy offering comfort and advice. Charlotte and I facilitate but it’s the members that are so brilliant at holding each other up. It has been fantastic listening to different people checking in with each other, particularly with those who were feeling wobbly the week before.
Looking to the future
This year has been incredibly hard for all of us. Like many parent carers I am questioning so much about my daughter’s education. It is really painful and I often feel overwhelmed and powerless. The PSG is finding its voice. We want to change the inequalities, the inadequate access, the postcode lottery of provision. We know when things go right for our children. We celebrate when reasonable adjustments are made and they are fully included in their education but it is not the story most of us can tell. This year we have found our voice as a group as well as a belief in our abilities to create change. Watch this space – we will be heard.’
Mum to a 14-year-old braillist and Parent Support Group member, Heinke, shares her thoughts:
“There is no blindness but there is ignorance”
‘Over the past few years, SEN funding, and education policy have led to a crisis in educational provision for VI children. VI children require specialist support by qualified teachers of the visually impaired (QTVIs) and highly specialist teaching assistants in close collaboration with SENCOs and class room teachers. Many parents will not know that any child learning through non-sighted means will require specialist support that is unlikely to amount to less than 0.4 of a QTVI post. (RNIB, 2019)
‘The current system is failing.’
We know that VI children perform worse in all key stages of their education and in exams
such as GSCE and A level compared to their sighted peers. The current system is failing VI
children to progress to higher education and become independent adults.
Sad stories of what parents have experienced in VI education is always very similar often
almost identical. It is evident that most VI children and their parents are under significant
emotional stress, are involved in lengthy legal battles with local authorities and fighting a
daily battle to get better provision of education for their children.
‘LOOK’s Parent Support Group can influence policy and help parents shape the future.’
LOOK enables parents of VI children through their Parent/Carers Support Group to share
important information about how VI education should be conducted in mainstream school,
what resources VI children should have access to and what VI support in the form of QTVI,
TAs and SENCO should be provided. Moreover, parents learn how to engage with
mainstream schools and local authorities.
Parents learn how to reduce their emotional, stress, how to deal with their frustration and to convert their negative experiences into positive outcomes for their VI child and themselves. Parents realise that they are VI experts who understand best what is needed for VI children and most importantly that they are not alone.
LOOK always listens to parents and will always ensure that parents are adequately
supported through their large VI network and their connections with other VI charities
It will not take long for LOOK’s parent support to grow and influence policy of how VI
education should be conducted. VI education is not only a matter of funding, but it is a matter
of working together as a team. LOOK will enable us as parents to shape the future of VI
education so that many tens of thousands of VI children will have the same rights as their
sighted peers in years to come.’
Thank you, LOOK!
‘Thanks to LOOK’s Parent Support Group I learned more about my young person’s educational rights during lockdown, and that I was right to be asking for more. My son now receives TA input virtually which he would not have had without the support of other parents. The PSG provides not only a vast knowledge base from the other parents, but a safe supportive space to visit and share experiences.’
‘Thank you for the Parent Support Group during the last year. I have found it really helpful and it’s been great to be able to share with people who really understand and care. From the first time I was introduced to LOOK I have felt very lucky that my journey with LOOK has given me all this opportunity to meet all the rest of the LOOK Family; Elin, Charlotte, Jennifer, Jane and too many more to mention. I’m very grateful for the times when I may not have been at my best; you have been there and showed me you care. Thank you.‘
‘Thanks to LOOKS’s Parent Support Group I don’t feel as isolated and alone in this world as the parent of a child with numerous disabilities. I now feel, especially at the times when I hit rock bottom(as a result of the ongoing stressful battles and situations we endure regularly), I will be picked up and transported instantly to a better place(at least for a couple of hours!). I have gained many useful things from all the wonderful ladies I have met through the group and this has enabled me to cope and most of all we give each other the hope and courage to carry on.’
‘Thanks to LOOK’s Parent Support Group I know I’m not in my fight for education alone, I now have a group of great people I can talk to who understand exactly what we all go though and are always there with great advice. This has been the best thing I have ever had.
Thank you LOOK for making this possible and making the the last year more bearable.’