Before coming to meet the family, I had been told they’d been through some hard things so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I definitely wasn’t expecting their open faces and happy smiles. Or to be plied with platefuls of delicious honey cake and Albanian delicacies.
Mum had come to the UK from Albania with her two children, Sally and Oliver*. She was about to give birth to her third child and had no family around to care for the children while she was in hospital. She was very concerned about what would happen to her children over the period she was hospitalised.
“I was afraid to leave the children with people I didn’t know. I was stressed and didn’t sleep for days.” Mum cradled Baby and smiled as her daughter Sally translated into English for us.
She explained that her midwife had asked her about the children and where they would stay. When Mum said that she didn’t know then the midwife recommended Safe Families.
The family was introduced to Safe Families’ Host Family volunteers, Paul and Paula, who were available to host the children overnight. That same day they got a call as Mum was rushed into hospital with birthing pains.
The youngest child, Oliver, is very shy and Mum was worried how he would adapt to staying in a new home away from Mum so when Sally called and she heard how well the children were doing in their host home she felt relieved. Mum could see that Oliver had really settled in with the Host Family, which surprised her.
“After that I wasn’t worried, because I saw my children were happy and I felt happy too,” explained Mum.
I looked across the table full of honey cake at Paul and Paula’s beaming faces on the other side of the brown sofa and could easily understand how children would feel at home with them.
“This was our first family. We’d just done the training,” commented Paula. “We were a bit nervous but we still knew it would be okay.
“It was strange because we just met them and then we got the phone call and had them overnight. At first Oliver didn’t want to talk to us. But then very quickly he got used to us and then he wouldn’t stop talking!”
The birthing pains turned out to be a false alarm and Mum came home again. A week later she went to hospital again to give birth.
Paul and Paula picked the children up from the hospital to host them overnight for two nights. However, when the baby was born he was poorly, so the couple offered to continue hosting the children until Mum was out of hospital, taking them daily to the hospital to visit Mum, to school and out to the park and a Christmas market. Every night the children would tuck themselves into bed and discuss their day together and all the fun things they’d done.
“They brought us to the hospital every single day to visit mum,” says Sarah, “and Mum was happy because she could see us every day and know we were happy.”
“Each day we didn’t know whether they’d go home and we’d get word from the hospital that they needed hosting another night,” explained Paul.
Fortunately, the couple had a great time hosting the children and laughingly requested their next family has children like Sally and Oliver. It isn’t goodbye for the two families however.
“We’re going to keep in touch with them and take them out. We’re going to take them to the museum and then to a pantomime,” say Paul and Paula.
And Sally and Oliver? The children say that Paul and Paula are like their English grandparents.
“After we met them I was happier. I felt they are like my grandma and grandpa and I didn’t feel alone,” says Sally.
*names changed to protect privacy
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