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Children suffer as families face mounting debts

    Norwood, the family services agency, has reported a 20 per cent rise in its caseload since last year as economic conditions increase the strain on Jewish homes.

    The London- based agency says that it is now supporting around 600 children and their families — with around two-thirds of cases related to the consequences of marital breakdown.

    Chief executive Elaine Kerr said that it had taken time for the effects of the financial collapse of 2008 to filter down. “We didn’t see the rise at the start of the recession,” she explained.

    “Families who were affected got on with it, finding means to carry on with the support of family and friends, taking out loans and borrowing with credit cards.

    “But if a father loses his job and then a new job doesn’t materialise, that could lead to a range of problems —family break-ups, domestic violence, poverty, parents becoming depressed, which has an impact on the children.”

    According to the charity, there are 54 Jewish children who are officially classified as “at risk” by local authorities — children who are in danger of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect.

    But Mrs Kerr said that Norwood was dealing with more children who could be similarly at risk where it was struggling to get support from local authorities.

    “Over the last few years, local authorities have cut their expenditure, reduced services or raised their thresholds for opening new cases,” she said. “There are cases where the local authority would have been willing to work with us but because of their workload, we are finding the door being shut in our faces. We believe this has led to increased pressure on Norwood.”

    Mrs Kerr said that it was not only rising numbers but also the greater complexity of cases that the charity was having to cope with, leading to it having to remain involved with families in difficulty for a longer period than before.

    “Where short-term interventions in the past may have been sufficient, now we are seeing more long-term problems, where families may have been struggling for a considerable time before seeking help,” she said.
    “If a family is experiencing difficulties, it is best to be seen quickly as it is the preventative work we do that stops the problem getting worse. We are talking about children who need the best start in life. They are carrying around difficulties that could affect them for the rest of their lives. We are trying not to let that happen.”

    Tami, six, and Miri, nine, (not their real names) are thriving again. But two years ago their home was anything but happy. Their father lost his job and turned to alcohol and gambling and, as things went from bad to worse, the girls would often see their parents screaming at each other.

    After threats of violence, their mother moved out with the girls, taking refuge at the home of a relative. But a teacher at school noticed that both girls had become withdrawn and unable to contribute in class.

    At the school’s suggestion, their mother sought help from Norwood. The girls had art therapy and counselling to help them overcome the shock of no longer having their father around. Their mother received counselling both alone and with her children.

    They are now more settled at school and the mother is better equipped to see to all their wellbeing.

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