Banbury’s Lucy helps children with disabilities enjoy Christmas

When it comes to working over Christmas people often think of firefighters, police officers or Doctors and nurses. But did you know that social care workers like 27-year-old Lucy Durnin from Banbury whose jobs involves caring for children with disabilities also often work over the festive period?

Lucy is a Flexible Support Worker in Oxfordshire County Council’s Children and Families Care Team and has worked many a Christmas Day - helping a child with a disability get dressed, supported them to eat and assist in getting ready for a special event and exciting day ahead. Indeed her job is one that routinely involves working what are often referred to as “unsocial hours” – but that’s all part of why she loves it.

She said: “I have the best job in the world. I get to go in and support people of crisis but also at great points of positivity in their lives and it is very rewarding. The small moments, smiles and laughter can be rewarding.

“My day usually involves getting up very early and visiting a family to support them to get a child up out of bed, washed and ready for school. I often prepare their breakfasts. We work with children who have autism, learning difficulties and complex medical issues, which can place additional pressures on families. Some children need to uses tubes to eat and drink and others cannot communicate verbally.

“Later in the day we will often be picking up children after school or from school take out for a couple of hours to take part in activities that help them feel part of the communities in which they live. That can be swimming or even just feeding the ducks.

Giving every child a good start in life

Lucy joined the council as an apprentice 11 years ago and has been in her current role for four years. The county council’s children’s social care team has an annual budget of £78m and cares for almost 800 children who need that care for a variety of reasons. The council’s aim is to give every child a good start in life.

She added: “It’s all about helping children who may need extra support or who may struggle to get more familiar with their community and surroundings and get comfort and enjoyment. Later in the evening, we can be helping a child get changed and ready for bed and perhaps cooking dinner. Sometimes we’ll help put a child to bed.

“We see families in their daily routines in very personal moments and we have to make ourselves part of that routine, whilst remaining professional and not being intrusive. Once we are in that situation nobody feels awkward. It’s very important that families feel at ease with us, so we need to build relationships with both the child and their family. That’s obviously particularly important on big family days like Christmas Day.

“I have worked on many occasions on Christmas Day and it’s great to see a family preparing for such a significant occasion. One of the key things about my job is to learn the little sounds and noises a child who cannot speak may make, to express joy and happiness or other emotions. It’s always good to know that they are happy about something even if they cannot say so. We also support families who don’t celebrate Christmas, so it’s important we are still available to provide the care for their children.

“To communicate with children who cannot talk we often use text, pictures, objects of reference or sign language – but the little sounds they can make are just as important as observing their expressions and body language. Gradually we are able to give children a measure of independence. Many of them have very little of that because they depend so much on people. It can even be something simple like letting them decide what clothes they are going to wear that day.

“Those moments of joy are priceless – that is why I have the best job even though if often involves working when most other people are at home with their own families. Whether I work at Christmas this year will depend on whether we have a family who request this or need that support.”

Unsung heroes

Lucy Butler, Oxfordshire County Council’s Director for Children’s Services, said: “We’re proud of Lucy and the team she works in. They are true unsung heroes – but they are not unsung at the county council or by the families they help. We know how hard they work and how expert they are at giving a child a good start in life and becoming part and parcel of a family’s life. They truly are experts in their field and we value the contribution they make to Oxfordshire life.”