During lockdown, local Home-Starts reported concerns about the impact of both physical and emotional isolation on families. The global pandemic, enforced social isolation and economic turbulence magnified the pressure and anxiety of every possible challenge a family might face. Yet at the same time, Home-Starts faced major disruption to their ability to support parents in our normal ways.

Even in normal times, feeling of isolation and loneliness among parents are early indicators of poor future outcomes for families and children. This is why, for almost fifty years, Home-Start has worked to support parents to connect with others and build confidence as care-givers. We place great emphasis on the value of our staff and volunteers standing alongside parents, offering compassionate, non-judgemental, accessible and trusted support.

Home-Start is often there when no-one else is, and this proved all the more true during the pandemic.

Thanks to the Government’s Loneliness Fund, via the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Home-Start received funding to reach over a thousand mothers and their children between autumn 2020 and the end of March 2021. 

Recognising that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) families were being disproportionately affected by COVID19, we specifically targeted this demographic.

63% of participants identified themselves as having any physical or mental health conditions or illnesses lasting or expected to last for 12 months or more. However, our anecdotal evidence showed that many mums who answered no would then go on to talk about a range of issues which showed mental health problems.

Using the Office of National Statistics (ONS) loneliness measure and additional wellbeing measure, we asked mums for scores on how they felt at the start and end of support (within the funding timeline as Home-Start support is holistic and in many cases pre-dated the project and will continue after its completion).  

48% of mums we worked with through this funding often or always felt lonely at the start, compared with 23% at the end. 

Across all four loneliness measures the number of mums who often or always felt negatively dropped. In three of the four measures the drop was 25% or more. 

Here are stories from just two of the mums participating in the programme. Their names have been changed to protect their identity.

Belinda, a lone parent with two young children was recently rehomed to a new area where she didn’t know anyone or have any family connections or support. Due to a complex past with an abusive ex-partner, Belinda had been diagnosed with depression and had had suicidal thoughts. She was also feeling extremely lonely and isolated. Home-Start matched this family with a lovely volunteer and they started to meet for outdoor walks and talks. Due to the weather, Belinda and her volunteer were sometimes unable to meet up but instead they would have a chat via video call so that they were able to keep up the communication and support. Having a Home-Start volunteer has made a big difference. Belinda says she is feeling less lonely and isolated and looks forward to the time they spend together. Through support and encouragement of her volunteer, Belinda has also accessed counselling sessions through Home-Start, which have had a positive impact on her mental health. 

Belinda said “it has really helped having a volunteer to talk to, I really enjoy our time together. She is such a lovely lady and I’m really pleased to have met her. I don’t feel as lonely as I did before”.

Casey had her first baby during lockdown and found it very isolating. Not only was she spending most of her time alone with just her son, she also wasn’t able to attend the usual mum and baby activities that would normally break up the days. She missed adult conversation, her family live 3-4 hours away and therefore could not travel to see her or her new baby during the lockdown periods. Before her baby was born, she worked full time, did lots of activities outside of work so lockdown has been a massive change for her.

Casey approached her local Home-Start with feelings of isolation and low self-esteem which were affecting her mental health. They invited her to join their 'Being Mum' group.

Casey said “I’ve really enjoyed the “Being Mum” sessions as it’s allowed me to hear other mums’ experiences and challenges etc. We all seemed to bond really quickly, and it was nice to be able to talk and share in a safe space. I felt that the sessions allowed me to gain reassurance for myself and hopefully speak about things that helped others. It has been something to look forward to every week and I’m hoping that the group keeps in touch after the sessions have finished.”

As well as attending weekly Zoom sessions, Casey has been matched with a Home Start volunteer, Sarah.  They meet weekly outside the home going for long walks and talking. Casey enjoys the emotional support Sarah offers and has a more positive outlook for the future. She is practicing the relaxation exercises offered during the sessions and is finding her journal helpful.  Moving forward Casey is planning on staying in touch with the other mums and is really looking forward to meeting up in person on our final session. She has found the WhatsApp group supportive and messages other mums on a regular basis. 

The DCMS funding has had a positive impact on reducing loneliness and made a difference to families when they were at their most vulnerable.

Home-Start support will continue, as we ensure that we are there for parents when they need us most, because childhood can’t wait.