For a child living in poverty, deprivation and in an abusive household, their guardian angel comes in the shape of a community support worker, writes Peter Stears.

A community support worker sits in her office, water rings from her coffee mug stain her desk as she finishes up on the final piece of paper work for the day. The clock hands edge closer and closer to five o’clock, another day done, another family processed.

For a child living in poverty, deprivation and in an abusive household, their guardian angel comes in the shape of a community support worker, who through the provision of support services can restore to them the life a child should live.

The worrying reality of the situation is that, while abuse doesn’t discriminate, the cases appearing on this support worker’s desk come from the same economic areas.

The majority of areas that I would go into would be lower socioeconomic areas, they wouldn't be the more affluent, middle-class areas”, said in a way which unfortunately states this is a fact of life.

These lower socioeconomic areas are gripped by unemployment, substance and alcohol abuse, and crime. In these areas, it is the children who suffer the most and are witnessing: addiction, substance misuse, domestic violence, poverty and homelessness on a daily basis.

There is a distinguishable note of disgust in the support workers voice that in today’s day and age children are living in conditions where they haven't washed in days, there is nothing to eat, they are sleeping in filth and their clothes are rags. Domestic violence and mental health problems have peaked with the recession as stresses and strains over money grip vulnerable families. Children are suffering willful neglect at the hands of their guardians and are regular victims of physical, emotional and sometimes sexual abuse. The reality facing our capital’s children is harrowing to an adult, however for some children, it is all they know.

These children grow up with attachment issues, total loss of self-esteem and confidence, a complete lack of security and knowing where they fit in the world. Children of abuse can grow up to be very introverted, suffering with mental health issues, suicidal ideation and very susceptible to the release that drugs and alcohol can provide. If there is no intervention, then this dangerous cycle continues.

The issue of homelessness has become more prevalent in Irish society over the past six months than it has ever been. Children are living and waking up next to their parents in a cramped one room B&B or hostel, where there is no cooking facilities, table to sit around and have a family meal or space to study for children in school. The support worker pauses and stresses the point that there are good parents who are homeless, however they cannot protect their children from the possibility that there may be drug or alcohol fuelled arguments next door and their children may witness inappropriate behaviours from other people who are homeless. For a child living in homelessness there is a complete lack of security and this takes an emotional toll.

So where does the solution lie? Early intervention, appropriate supports and the voice of the child being heard.

Where there is a want to change on behalf of the family half your job is done.” The goal of community support is to “enable families rather than propping them up because families have to stand on their own two feet. Services are only meant to be in there for an amount of time to help a family to empower themselves, give them guidance and support and then leave.

By providing families with the support they need to return to a normal life, the child’s life will improve dramatically.

Long pauses between sentences filled the air as the support worker describes the type of person a support worker is.

You have to be a certain type of personality to work in this area. You have to be very professional, you have to have a lot of integrity, you have to care. I’m many years working in this area and you develop very early on what is called coping skills: debriefing with your manager and mindfulness - taking 5 minutes out to ask yourself are you ok, are you 100 per cent. What makes your job worthwhile is if you make a change in a family's life for the better. The good days get you over the tough days. When you become de-sensitised then you should stop doing the job.

The community worker plays a vital role in a vulnerable child’s life. Without them there may not be much hope for the child in need. While the recession has closed the doors of much needed services there will always be the community support worker with,

a will, from a professional point of view, to empower families to change aspects of their life to become more positive, to make sure their children are safe, and well cared for.”