Viki's* story

*Names changed to protect identities

I have two children, my son who’s five and my daughter who is three. I love them both so much, they give me a different life and I am very happy.

My son was born after I had escaped slavery and even though I had health issues during the pregnancy, things went well at first. But then we had to move cities and I didn’t have anyone around me, not many friends and no family. I was isolated. When you feel so alone it’s so hard to cope.

I was very concerned about my son and the delays in his speech, so I went to the GP and asked the Health Visitor for help, but they just told me not to worry. But I said, ‘look my son was talking and now he has stopped – something is wrong’. But they didn’t see the gap between his age and his development.

The most difficult thing is that he can’t express himself. He can’t tell me his needs, like ‘mummy I want bread, or water, or a book’, or anything like that. It’s hard, and it was very difficult when they gave him the diagnosis of Autism because I was not aware of it and didn’t know what it meant or how to help him.

I felt like the world was finished, like I didn’t have a life anymore. I was feeling so down and I didn’t know what to do next – he was being sent home from school all the time and I didn’t know how to help him at home.

My Hestia case worker chased up speech and language therapy because if I called them, no one cared. They’d just say, yes, we’re going to visit him, but didn’t.

My caseworker also found funding for me to see a psychologist over Zoom. This was the best support because the therapist was able to show me what I was doing good and what I had to change.

She showed me how playing together was the way to change his behaviour – I would play games and make it fun when we were making difficult changes, like saying ‘Bear is coming now to turn off the TV’ and he’ll smile about that, and then we start playing animals or blowing bubbles in the garden.

Before he would never have accepted me turning off the TV. Now I’m more confident with him – she’s taught me how to deal with his behaviour and how to make my life more normal. It’s a long way to get there because he is very delayed and needs lots of support, but it’s helping me.

She has also helped my mental health and feelings because before I was trying so hard yet getting nothing back. I was thinking ‘Oh my god, he’s not himself, what am I going to do next?’

My caseworker also talked to the school. My son is still toilet training, and we had an incident in the school because they didn’t want to take him to the toilet or change his nappy – when I learned about that I kept him at home, I said I wasn’t going to bring him to school if they don’t look after him. But my caseworker helped me to get a plan for my son and the school accepted that they had to work with him.

Without this help, I couldn’t have moved on with my son, because mentally I felt very bad about how to support him, with Covid, and the way things were at school.

Now that I see the school is working with him and supporting him and I feel like they are supporting me too.

Before, he would have big tantrums, say if I switched off the TV, he would scream and scream and cry and bang his head on the wall. The neighbours kept complaining and my landlord wanted me to move out. But now my son’s behaviour has changed, the landlord isn’t telling me we have to find somewhere else and we can stay.

My son has special needs, he has Autism, but he is a lovely boy, he is amazing, I am so proud of him.

Read Hestia's 'Underground Lives: Forgotten Children' report now