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New Family First Service to Support Children with Brain Injury


Brain Injury Matters received £700,000 to work with Belfast Health & Social Care Trust on the five-year Family First project. It will offer intensive support to children under 12 with acquired brain injury and their families across Northern Ireland. It is one of five projects awarded funding totalling £3,387,105 million today.

Fiona McCabe, Chief Executive of Brain Injury Matters, said: “Acquired brain injury can be caused by a variety of things – a fall, a car accident, through a stroke or through an infection or an illness like meningitis. The effects can be very different depending on the person.

“They can have problems with organising and problem solving and everyday tasks. There can also be emotional issues such as mood swings, apathy and irritability. Because inhibitions can be lowered, they may encounter social problems. This is particularly difficult for a child and their family, especially if issues only become apparent some time after the injury and outwardly children appear fine.

“Families in these situations need the right support as without it they can fall apart. Parents may feel guilt and blame themselves for their child’s brain injury. Because there is understandably focus on the child with the acquired brain injury, their brother and sisters may feel confused and excluded. All this puts pressure on the family unit and can make the child’s rehabilitation all the more difficult.”

Ms McCabe said the Family First project will include one-on-one and group support and training, and activities to promote independence, interpersonal skills and development. There will also be an online support forum with the aim of creating stronger families.

“Our rehabilitation team will work with families in their homes and in community venues to ensure the child’s needs are met and the family remains strong, we are grateful to Big Lottery Fund NI for this support” she added

Anita Gulbe’s daughter Sara, 19, had to learn to do everything again after she suffered a brain tumour as a child in her native Latvia. She was successfully treated, but ten years on she has been left with issues including memory problems and sight and hearing loss. The family now live in Dungannon after coming to Northern Ireland five years ago.

Anita said: “Sara was a very good student at school – first in her class in Maths. She lost all of that because she needed a long time to recover. She went back to school but it was hard for her because she was different and was targeted by bullies. Emotionally she’s affected – she sometimes cries very easily.”
Anita, her husband Atvars and their other five children rallied around Sara. But Anita admitted it has been hard for them.

“It affected the family very much. My eldest child Kasper, 25, was a teenager at the time and he understood how serious it was. But my other children were too young to understand. They tried to be happy but they felt lost. They didn’t know how to react to Sara.”
Since moving to Northern Ireland, Sara has received support through Brain Injury Matters’ Younger Person’s Network programme, which is also funded by the Big Lottery Fund. Anita said it has made all the difference to Sara. She is now studying travel and tourism at South West Regional College in Omagh and is also a budding artist.

“She meets other people like her who have been affected by brain injury. That has made her more confident because she is not the only one who is different,” she said.

“They teach Sara how to live with things like memory loss – techniques like making notes. She is more independent. It’s made a really big difference to her and to the whole family – we are at peace that she will be OK.

Anita added: “This new project is great because it will help families with younger children. There was nothing like that for us when Sara became ill in Latvia. It will help keep families strong.”