About Help The Child
Help the Child was formed and registered with the Charity Commission in 1987. The aim of the charity is to raise funds to assist children with disabilities in reaching their full potential by providing items of specialist equipment. The charity can provide items for children who live in Somerset and come under the care of NHS children's services in Somerset.
Who we help
The charity helps children with a range of conditions, including cerebral palsy, various complex syndromes (which can include multiple symptoms - global developmental delay, breathing difficulties, digestive problems, visual or hearing impairment), brittle bones, autistic spectrum disorders, learning difficulties and so on. They may also have additional needs (eg: a learning or sensory impairment).
These conditions can affect children in different ways (ie: they may be unable to sit or stand without help; they may have disorganised or uncontrolled movement patterns).
How we help
There are many items which can make a huge practical difference to the quality of life of children and their families. Statutory funding exists, from either the NHS or Social Care, for basic items within the home environment, such as standing frames, home adaptations for bathing and toileting and wheelchairs. The Local Education Authority will also support children in the school environment with items such as specialist seating to facilitate learning.
However, there are many gaps in statutory funding and it is these gaps in funding that Help the Child aims to fill.
Identifiable gaps in funding are :
- Trikes - A trike can allow a sense of independent movement for children who are unable to walk or have limited mobility. It offers them a chance to take part in an outdoor activity with friends and family. The exercise involved will also help them develop strength and co-ordination . . . and have fun!
A tricycle with a carer control can be used by a child with visual impairment or to aid a child with poor sense of direction. Trikes often need to be specifically tailored to meet the needs of the individual child, which increases the cost.
- Walking Aids - These will enable a child who cannot otherwise achieve walking to enjoy movement, to experience the world from an upright perspective and gain some independence. Being upright provides the added bonus of ensuring weight is distributed through the bones which will aid growth and bone density, and also digestion.
The NHS provides walking aids to children. Again the aids are expensive and so the NHS will provide only one per child. The frames are usually large, heavy and not easily transportable between locations. This often creates a dilemma, forcing the parents to choose between allowing the child to have the frame at school or at home. Where this has been identified, HTC has funded a second frame.
- Positioning and Seating - Good positioning for children with neurological or deteriorating conditions is now recognised as essential. This can be achieved through the use of specialised seating and equipment, which can support them in a variety of different positions for play. These can enable the child to move through the normal developmental stages of lying on back and tummy, side lying and sitting. This can be helpful in enabling the child work through developmental milestones.
Supportive seating can also enable a child, who would not otherwise be able to achieve sitting independently, to play, take part in educational and leisure pursuits and achieve maximum independence. Sometimes a very simple solution to postural control is needed in the form of a chair and table, which can be adjusted to fit the child and will grow as they grow. Again, the NHS can only provide one item per child, so where a gap is identified HTC can fund a second seating system.
- Specialised Car Seats - For some children the restraints of a standard child's car seat are not sufficient, either to hold them securely or to prevent escape! In addition, as the child grows they become larger and heavier but still need lifting into a car seat, putting a strain on the back of their parent or carer. Swivel car seats can have additional support straps and are fixed on a turntable making access easier and lifting safer.
- Wheelchairs and Buggies - Children in need of a wheelchair or specialist buggy are referred by their therapist to the NHS Mobility Service. The child's clinical needs are assessed and an NHS chair recommended. This will usually be a basic chair and may not meet environmental needs, (ie: parents' own physical limitations may make the chair too heavy to push or the chair may not be collapsible to transport in a car, meaning that visits to family are made difficult, if not impossible).
If parents, with the help of their child's therapist, identify a specific type a chair/buggy frame to meet environmental needs, the NHS will provide a voucher (equivalent to the cost of an NHS chair) that can be used towards the cost of the chair of choice. The shortfall will need to be met by the parents. Help the Child can assist parents with a 'top up' towards the chair of their choice.
- Rain Covers / Sun Canopies - the NHS mobility centre will provide a specialist buggy for a needy child, but not a rain cover or sun canopy to keep out the weather!
- Specialised Toys and Equipment for Sensory Play - soft play areas, fibre optic or bubble lights - all really helpful for children with sensory impairment or autistic spectrum disorder.
- Switches - the use of a switch can enable a child with very limited movement to activate toys or a computer, allowing them to play and communicate. A switch can also be used to allow the child to take an active role in daily life (eg: to switch on a radio or a food mixer).
- Specialist Software for Computer or Tablet - (eg: communication aids which allow a child to select what they wish to say by choosing a picture to construct simple sentences).
How we work
We work as a small committee of trustees (usually 12 - 14 people), all volunteers, and meet around every 8 weeks or so. Unlike many larger and national charities, we incur virtually no overheads as we have no premises or salaries to pay for and so all the money raised goes towards helping children. With regular meetings we try to give a speedy response to requests for assistance.
We receive written referrals from therapists working with children - paediatric physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other health professionals. We also sometimes receive requests direct from parents or from teachers, both in mainstream and specialist schools. If the request has come directly from a parent, then we will liaise with the therapist working with the child to ensure that the request is reasonable and appropriate.
The referral will outline the nature of the child's problem, the family background and details of the item requested. They will also indicate if they are seeking the total cost or if any other funds are available. Sometimes parents are able to contribute towards an item, or they might have secured part-funding from another charity.
The request will also include a quotation from a specialist supplier. The request will be discussed at the next committee meeting and, providing it is reasonable and appropriate and we have the funds, it is usually agreed. Sometimes we need to go back for further information or clarification and occasionally, if the item requested is not specialist, we will have to decline.
Once the request is agreed we will contact the supplier and order the item direct to be delivered to the child. We feel it is very important to a child that the items are delivered as soon as possible.
The funds to pay for the items we provide are broadly received from three sources:
Our own fundraising events
We have a very active and willing committee and over the years we have masterminded many, many different ways of raising money: fashion shows, cookery demonstrations, themed balls, outdoor plays, coffee mornings, vintage afternoon teas, talks with supper, quiz evenings and the inevitable supermarket bag packing.
Donations from groups
Increasingly we are fortunate in being supported by groups who raise money specifically for Help the Child. Sometimes parents and friends of children we have helped organise their own events,and village carol singers have given the donations they receive. We have had a group of friends who climbed Ben Nevis, we have been supported by the Young Farmers and on two occasions we have been adopted by golf clubs as their charity for the year, which makes a tremendous difference to our bank balance.
Donations from individuals
We also receive donations from individuals, such as people who give a donation instead of sending Christmas cards, and some who have done fun runs. Last year two young ladies swam the channel and raised nearly £15,000 for us. And it is worth mentioning that, as a charity, we are able to claim Gift Aid on individual donations, which means that the amount is increased by 25% by HMRC.