Q&A with Scotty’s Head of Support, Bev Townsend
Bev Townsend is always on hand to provide emotional support to bereaved British Forces families. Here we talk to Bev about the support she offers.
Bev, you joined Scotty’s in July 2019. Why was a Head of Support needed?
Before I joined last summer, Scotty’s support was more about putting smiles back on faces through holidays, gifts, events and grants. That still happens and is really important, but it was identified that families need more emotional support. A survey conducted with Scotty’s Little Soldiers members revealed that 89% of families asked didn’t feel there was adequate bereavement support available for military families, and 90% said they would be likely to use additional support if it was available. I was brought on board after Scotty’s were given funding through the Veterans’ Foundation and Annington to enhance the Support Programme and pay for me to be there as Head of Support for the families.
Why is the support you provide so important?
Every child supported by Scotty’s Little Soldiers has to face the fact that they will never see their parent again. That’s a harsh reality for anyone to face, let alone a child.
Grief affects everyone differently and at different stages. Some people think it’s hard at the beginning and in time you come to terms with it and can carry on. That’s not the case. Some children are fine for years and then it hits them unexpectedly, some struggle for years. Everyone is different.
We have children who never knew their parent because they were too little when they died to remember them, and some weren’t even born when their dad died. All these kids face different challenges.
The surviving parent has an awful lot to cope with, their own grief as well as the grief their child suffers. I’m here for them. I’m on the other end of the phone if people want a chat. Sometimes we speak for a while and they feel better just having talked, sometimes they just want to feel they aren’t alone and that what they are going through is normal, and sometimes I refer people for further help. Everything is confidential and I’m here to try to ease their pain in any way that I can.
Tell us about your background.
I served in QARANC and Intelligence Corps in the Army for seven years and have twelve years of experience in palliative care nursing. I have also previously managed positive activities services for disadvantaged children including young carers. When this position came up at Scotty’s it felt perfect!
What’s an average day like for you?
No two days are ever the same. I spend a lot of the time on the phone to parents and to children, but I also liaise with schools because we dedicate a lot of time to ensuring our beneficiaries educational needs are met. I also organise events. Last year I arranged for 18 of the Scotty kids, plus their surviving parent, to go to the Cenotaph parade in London for Remembrance. I’m currently arranging a Scotty’s support retreat for the kids.
The Coronavirus pandemic has really changed things and at the moment I’m hosting lots of support groups via Zoom. We have weekly virtual Coffee Mornings and Grab a Glass evenings for the mums, and I am also having group chats with some of the children. These virtual events are a really good way to reassure people they aren’t alone. They need that now more than ever.
How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected the families supported by Scotty’s?
It’s having a huge impact. The children we support are already going through so much having lost a parent, so many of the families are finding this a particularly anxious time. Scary headlines relating to deaths are frightening for anyone, but for a child who has already lost a parent it’s especially worrying. The number of Support Cases we opened in April increased by 153% versus the previous month, which shows the need for the service Scotty’s offers. I’m just really glad I can be here for them when they need me.
What are the biggest challenges of your role?
The biggest challenges are not meeting the families face to face. It makes it harder to be able to offer emotional support, especially when someone is upset. Luckily the power of technology means we can offer remote support through video and voice calls, which enables us to reach more families. The wide variety of things that the families need support with can be challenging. Every conversation needs different solutions because every family is different. But that’s also what makes my job so rewarding.
What do you do if you feel a family needs more support than you can offer?
If a family needs more support, I try to find an agency that is local to them to refer to. Winston’s Wish are able to offer face to face bereavement support to Forces families, so I will make referrals to them as well as other specialist organisations like CAMHS and then I walk them through the journey and check in regularly to see how things are going. We are also very lucky to have great relationships with other Armed Forces charities such as SSAFA and RNRMC, so we have a lot of extended support.
How much involvement do you have with the children’s education?
In Norfolk we are piloting the Abeona project to help support children through their education. We identify when a child is struggling and put support in place before it becomes a problem. We also celebrate successes. I am able to talk to schools across the country where families ask for help, usually leading to additional support being put in place for them at school.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love getting to know the families and it’s so good to see the difference we are making. It sounds a bit cheesy to say that it’s great to have a job that’s worthwhile, but it really is. These children have been through such terrible times and if I can ease their pain in any small way then I feel immensely proud and it gives me great job satisfaction.
What type of feedback do you receive from families?
I receive lots of messages from mums and dads thanking me, saying that Scotty’s means the world to their children and therefore to them. Lots of the children and parents say that having Scotty’s checking in makes them feel less alone. I’ve also had quite a few mums say that they miss having their partner to turn to talk things through with, and that having Scotty’s there in a small way helps to fill that void.
What does this kind of feedback mean to you?
It’s always lovely to hear from the families and know that we’ve helped them. We can’t bring back their loved one, but we can be a shoulder to cry on. It’s not all tears though, sometimes we have a real giggle. There’s no better tonic. But I’m here, whether that be to cry on, laugh with or ask for some advice.