Rosa had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition which attacks every muscle in the body, leaving its sufferer unable to walk or sometimes even move because of the pain. Due to her illness, Rosa’s husband had stopped working so that he could be a full-time carer for his family. He was raising their three young children who were 9, 8 and 3 almost independently and despite his wife’s illness, was thrilled to hear she was pregnant with their fourth child.
So if there was one person who needed her husband there, to ensure the safety and security of her children, it was Rosa. Her hopes were shattered when, one day, there was a heavy banging on the doorâ€¦
“They broke the door downâ€¦ I wasn’t allowed my phone, I wasn’t allowed to communicate at all or pick up the phone. They took whatever it is they wanted to take they took the computers, the tablets and the money.”
The stress of the raid and its aftermath sent Rosa’s condition flaring to an uncontrollable level.
“Whilst they were here they caused me a lot of distress, my health started deteriorating and they had to call an ambulance. They made a mess of the house. I have not received my property back and I understand I have to keep calling again and again but due to my health I haven’t been able toâ€¦”
Rosa’s children witnessed their home being ransacked and their mother’s health spiral before their very eyes. Imagine yourself in the shoes of the child, watching heavily armed men enter your home to search through all of your belongings, to then see your mother falling apart and need more people – this time in a different kind of uniform – come and help her. Sirens afters sirens echoed in the ears of Rosa’s innocent children that night. Inevitably, the experience would leave permanent, deep scars.
“They were just very distressed. They were traumatised by it- they were happy when we had to move away from the property so they didn’t have to remember what had happened.”
At the same time, further exacerbating her state, Rosa was cornered by press, who showed her no mercy in the upcoming weeks. Persistently, harassing her for a story and making a media circus out of her plight, Rosa was left feeling besieged, humiliated and vulnerable.
“Immediately that night we were bombarded by the press, they came to the house and were trying to get interviews from everyone for several days. They knocked on the neighbours’ doors and started asking questions about us and started to ask about my husband, the family. It was just a very stressful experience really, it was not an experience I wish on anyone. There was one who was telling lies about my husband, so one neighbour said that my husband was being aggressive towards her, which was not true; she was the one that was speaking to the reporter, she was telling the reporter lies. They were harassing me on a daily basis up for two weeks. It was quite intense and upsetting.”
Meanwhile, Rosa had to re-start the application for benefits. Rosa’s husband had taken care of all of their household affairs before his arrest, so Rosa struggled to submit the application and then had to wait months before she began receiving her disability benefit. During this time, she was left reliant upon friends for charity.
Once Rosa came across HHUGS, they were quickly able to process of an application for support. Whilst conducting the assessment, they began to understand the full extent of Rosa’s disability. According to her social worker, she was struggling to care for her children in the way a mother normally would; she was bed bound on some days, so she couldn’t clean or cook. Her social worker told HHUGS, “There have been occasions reported where she has been using the cooker and has had to lie on the floor as she felt so unwell. This has resulted in the food burning and she has been awoken by the smoke detector sounding. She now does not use the hob.”
In Rosa’s own words:
“It is an illness that attacks the muscles in the body and makes all the muscles in the body painful. It affects my walking, I can’t walk properly, I can’t move around like I used to. I’m not able to care for myself. It’s difficult for me to get to the commode chair [portable toilet] which is right next to me, so sometimes I wet myself or defecate on myself and wait for someone to clean me.”
Social Services were sending Rosa a carer for half an hour three days a week, a drop in the ocean compared to the support that Rosa and her children needed. In her incapacity to help her children, Rosa fell into depression which only worsened her health. She constantly worried about her children, who acknowledged that the constant visits from social services and the questions they were asking, were a sign that they were going to be separated from their mother. Their distress was clearly evident in their behaviour, displaying all the signs of trauma. Social services ordered that they change school, but bullying quickly ensued and their performance at school deteriorated dramatically.
“They were very clingy because they didn’t want to lose me as well. They were discriminated against by the students they didn’t know, they were not their usual happy self-knowing that their dad was not around. My son was initially very scared to go out aloneâ€¦ When people knock on the door, they get quite nervous thinking it is the police. When the siren is going off outside they get scared, thinking maybe it is the police coming back to come take me away. After so many years, my son still wets the bed, every fortnight.”
Rosa’s husband may have been the father to these three children, but he was also their mother. His absence had pierced them deeply and everyday their wound deepened. Ramadan and Eid were a particularly difficult time for the children, who expected to be showered with excitement and looked forward to experiencing that ‘Ramadan feeling’, delicious iftars and Islamic activities, but were instead faced with an increasingly unwell mother.
“It is upsetting for the kids and sad to see them upset, they just become very depressed that Daddy’s not here, because I’m not able to do much with them so it makes things difficult. It was depressing really, you feel as though it is just any other day of the month, any other day of the yearâ€¦.”
In such situations, it is of utmost importance that children are able to visit their fathers. To maintain a bond and to comfort the children. But Rosa’s financial and health difficulties made it impossible for her to continue such visits for very long.
“I was using a mobility scooter [to take the children to visit]â€¦. My son used to be excited when he saw his dad and used to be upset when we were leaving because when he was a baby his dad use to look after him a lot. The younger one used to cry because he didn’t recognise his dad, he saw his dad as a stranger really and got a bit scared… It made the kids happy for a while, they got excited to see him, they become more hyperactive – it does help. I used to go visit him on a monthly basis but since they moved him a few months ago I haven’t been able to visit him since – because the journey is just physically and financially too much for me. I have not got any option to leave it until he comes out now. It was very difficult, because when I go there and I come back, I become very drained, I’m in lot of pain and it would take me ages to recover from the journey.”
Whilst Rosa’s children struggled emotionally, they were also finding themselves in dangerous situations due to a lack of supervision. In one devastating incident, Rosa’s son broke his leg when she was unable to supervise him properly, only fuelling social services involvement in the case and increasing the likelihood that they would be taken into care.
“It was very difficult as the kids have to go to school by themselves which is very dangerous, we have to use a phone to monitor them. I find myself worrying every single day – I wonder if they get kidnapped, or if something can happen as they cross the road. Everyone around me had other things to do other than help.”
Although Rosa was a loving mother, who would do anything for her children, she was ultimately unable to care for them without assistance, but a carer would cost more than £30,000 annually, a cost the council refused to consider. Placed before HHUGS were two options: either, they could reject Rosa’s plea due to a lack of funds; Rosa’s children would then be taken into care for years until their father’s release; or HHUGS could do their upmost to support Rosa and her family, no matter what it took, to prevent the system from destroying the childhood of these innocent children. HHUGS took the latter path, and began to fund a carer for Rosa, for four hours a week on weekdays and five hours on weekends.
The carer has been an invaluable asset to Rosa, the two hardworking sisters HHUGS hired have been completely committed to Rosa’s support and are faith sensitive to the needs of her children.
“The carer helps me fulfil my day to day responsibilities in the house, like cooking, cleaning, caring for the kids, showering them and showering myself. They help me move from one place to the other when I get really ill. When I’m not able to do this for myself they help me do those things. They help me with everything that I should be doing as a mother. Without them, my kids would suffer the most.”
Social services later began to assess that the hours were not enough for Rosa, so HHUGS increased the hours to seven hours a day, seven days a week.
“The increase in hours has helped a lot with Social Services. It’s preventing them from trying to take my kids. Before, they were worried the kids were not getting enough care so these hours have made a difference with my having custody over them.”‘
“If it had not been for HHUGS, Social Services would have taken my kids away. Without HHUGS, I wouldn’t be able to care for them; cook and clean for them, take them to school. The older ones go themselves to school but the younger ones rely on the carer. The youngest is going to start school in January for 3 hours a day and the carer will take him. I don’t want to lose my kids. I pray that never happens.”
HHUGS have been there for Rosa through thick and thin. Following on from a reassessment from the council, Rosa’s disability allowance was stopped as she was deemed ‘fit to work’. This ludicrous decision was unequivocally over turned later on, but the entire process took a number of months and appeals, during which time HHUGS sent Rosa shopping vouchers to prevent her from falling into debt. HHUGS would also send Rosa a food pack in Ramadan and Qurbani meat for Eid ul-Adha. To make Eid a more enjoyable experience for Rosas children, HHUGS would send her Eid gift cards so that she could get her children presents. Annually, HHUGS send a taxi to collect Rosa and her children to attend the HHUGS beneficiary Eid party, so they can celebrate with children in a similar situation. To provide Rosa with emotional support, HHUGS assigned her a keyworker, to call and visit her and make sure she is safe and well.
“Just the support of knowing that there is someone to rely on, someone there, a fellow Muslim there to help, that you can rely on and fall back on in terms of hardship.”
Rosa’s husband was eventually released from prison but was placed on the other side of London and was unable to apply for benefits due to additional immigration issues. HHUGS intervened again, paying for his hostel rent and sending him food vouchers, topping up his phone and oyster card so that he could keep in touch with Rosa and the children. He was recently returned home to Rosa so he no longer requires this support. But HHUGS remain by his side, providing him with the emotional support he needs to start supporting his family again.
The future is now looking brighter for Rosa and her family. After these years of darkness, a dawn has finally begun to break on Rosa and her family.