How Equine Facilitated Learning has been continuing to support the most vulnerable children in society during COVID-19.

We’ve been hearing on the national news recently that more and more vulnerable children are being drawn in to the bleak and dark underworld of child trafficking and country lines. This is a world where evil gang culture deepens its claws around innocent lives, taking children as young as 10 years old into the depraved criminal underworld. Alarming figures show the number of young girls being groomed by older gang members is on the rise due to the thinking that targeting them will cause less attention.

Innocent young lives are continuing to exist in unhappy, unsafe and insecure home environments, often with little chance of protection or escape. They’re exposed to the horrors of domestic violence, poverty, neglect and physical abuse often by the people who should be protecting them from the harsh realities of life in many sectors of our communities.

Beyond their homes children are being increasingly groomed to undertake dangerous street level work, delivering drugs, coerced into the manufacturing of drugs and forced into risky sexual activities. Often getting caught up in conflicts between vying gangs and made to endure unspeakable punishments and consequences.

As a compassionate society, this harsh reality, is surely something that we cannot continue to turn our backs on.

There are those in our society that choose to believe this problem is only affecting a minor number of Young People, sweeping such heinous activities under the carpet. Even when the media has brought more attention to the problem during subsequent weeks of lock down people may have tried to rationalise or convince themselves the problem has gone away, or think that lockdown has made it almost impossible for these gangs to carry on endangering so many lives.

Sadly, this is not the case and I take little comfort that the issue is at least being reported on and that nationally there is an increasing acknowledgement that as a society we have a huge problem that is not simply going to disappear. Like COVID-19, it’s not going away any time soon and action is needed in the form of practical solution focused interventions that lead to greater consequences and punishment that fits the crime.

This human tragedy, effectively a child slave trade it seems, is pushed around Government departments, through a system that feels disconnected to me, out of date and touch with the harsh realities that growing numbers of children are enduring.  All the while, the poverty and deprivation gap widens between those that have and those that have not.

Lock down has prevented or at least impacted on the effectiveness of intervention between support agencies and social workers abilities to make visits into homes. Meaning the true increase in numbers of victims being exploited during COVID-19 are hard to ascertain.

Travel restrictions may have impacted the county lines networking but then if the manufacturing of drugs has been made more difficult, I believe that this will only have made the violence between rival gangs worse as they experience financial challenges that threaten their dominance and presence in the communities in which they hunt for the most vulnerable prey. With the lack of support and intervention from key workers, this escalating problem will only worsen, its evil roots driving ever deeper into so many areas of daily life.

Whilst I understand that the reopening of schools has been and is complex, it is the vulnerable children in our society being the most adversely affected.

School is the place of sanctuary in many cases, feelings of sudden loss and separation from any fragment of normality, of structure, purpose and routine in their daily lives, is causing many to feel fear and experience levels of anxiety at escalating and alarming rates.

Positive adult role models, established relationships which have been formed through months and years of effort by committed teachers and support professionals have been severed, like an injured limb being torn off without pain relief.

At The Seeds of Change, we use horses as our co-coaches and deliver therapeutic and academic courses in non-judgemental, stimulating, outdoor environments. During COVID-19 we have worked hard to continue to support our Young People to maintain contact with those that could not access our provision face to face because either they didn’t fit into “the right box” or needed to isolate because of health issues that themselves or their primary carers have.

We have been determined to find a way to be “present”, meaning it has been essential to learn new skills that have allowed us to set-up secure online pathways which allow us to continue our support through videos relating to course work and the natural environment  that so may of our Young People are missing at this critical time. Alongside the videos, we have set-up an online platform and call line that enables the Young People to contact us directly if they need support or simply a familiar and friendly face to chat to.

For those that have been able to physically access our provision we have been able to socially distance in our beautiful open rural setting, working outside with the horses, following strict protocol ourselves around health and safety, hygiene and finding innovative and creative ways of working to engage Young People. This enabling them to have a space in which to express anxiety and talk through their on-going fears with our trainers, and learn strategies to support safety and healthier choices.

As professional facilitators of education and mental health intervention, our role to coach using our “Positive Parent” approach allows us to contain, enable and encourage every individual to find their own inner strengths, skills and abilities. Allowing them to grow in resilience, confidence and determination to rewrite where they are now and, so importantly, the next part of their life.

Finding different ways to understand their feelings and emotions allows our Young People to develop the ability to link behaviours and identify those links which will enable them to make different choices for themselves, regardless of the dark and dangerous influences that they are exposed to in their communities.

As an organisation, we are committed to improving the quality of life for all that are able to access us. We feel determined to stand alongside every child and adult who wants to find a different pathway to encourage them to open outwards, and seize the opportunities that will lead to a change for the better.

We remain committed and strong. It is our mission, born out of a genuine intention to help make a change for the better.

Katherine Dillion, The Seeds of Change Director

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About Katherine Dillion

Katherine started the Seeds of Change 14 years ago with her business partner Rachael Frossell. A trained counsellor and exceptionally experienced coach, Katherine pioneered the development of the Seeds of Change specialist coaching techniques and programmes using the equine facilitated approach. EAGALA trained, Katherine works with a high tariff of young people using equine therapy to address their mental health and human development needs.