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Lady Frederick Windsor launches appeal to help Britain's most vulnerable children and families

Sophie Winkleman is patron of the charity School-Home Support

Tracy Schaverien

HELLO! this week joins forces with Lady Frederick Windsor to launch an appeal to help Britain's most vulnerable children and families. Lady Frederick – also known as the actress Sophie Winkleman – is calling on readers to help tackle the "silent pandemic" of poverty, domestic abuse and malnutrition triggered by the Covid-19 crisis.

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As patron of the charity School-Home Support (SHS, registered charity in England and Wales No. 1084696), Sophie has seen first-hand the dire consequences of lockdowns, school closures and job losses on some of the nation's most disadvantaged families. In this exclusive interview, she tells us how its invaluable work is needed more urgently than ever.

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WATCH: Sophie Winkleman makes passionate appeal

"Life was difficult for these families before the pandemic, but Covid-19 has brought the situation for many to crisis point," she says. "Parents are more stressed than ever because jobs have been lost and bills still have to be paid.

"Children are ill and malnourished, domestic violence is going through the roof and there is a mental health crisis in adults which affects the children. To be panicking about money while the children are crying with hunger and cold, I really don't know how people are coping. And the truth is they're not."

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Lady Frederick Windsor is patron of the charity School-Home Support

Photo credit: Andrew Crowley

School-Home Support was launched in 1984 to help combat truancy by supporting disadvantaged families with underlying issues at home. The charity's network of trained practitioners – many of them ex-teachers and social workers - help families with issues ranging from housing problems, debt management and benefits to lack of school uniform, computers and wifi and have been doing doorstep visits during lockdown.

The charity currently works across 50 schools in the UK and directly helped more than 8,000 individuals last year, but demand for its services has quadrupled during the pandemic. The last school shutdown saw a seven-fold increase in the number of safeguarding referrals SHS made, 40% of which involved domestic violence, so they urgently need to hire more practitioners and expand their reach.

"For thousands of children, school is their safe space - quite aside from being educated, they're warm, they get fed, they're not going to get hurt," says Sophie. "For these children, this safe space has gone and that's why, quite aside from simply not being educated, they're now in danger. Many children might not recover from what they are going through at the moment.

"SHS practitioners support parents who don't have anyone else to turn to and this holistic approach is so important; a child can't function with his or her family in dire straits. When a child can start relaxing about home life, they can start focusing on school a bit more. SHS help the family to help the child. This is what makes them unique and so effective.

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The appeal supports Britain's most vulnerable families

Photo credit: Andrew Crowley

"For example, I met a little boy who was not going to school for days at a time. I then met his mother, a full-time nurse on a violent epileptic ward. The pay was very low and she couldn't afford basics like a bed and school uniform for her son, who was staying away from school because of these issues and because his mother was so terribly anxious and worried. She didn't qualify for Universal Credit because she had a job so SHS helped her with the complex application for a benefit for low-paid key workers. With this small monthly increase her son now has a bed and uniform that fits. He is now thriving in his schoolwork. This is one small example of the clear impact SHS achieves."

SHS Chief Executive Jaine Stannard tells HELLO!: "The families that we work with were already living in really complex and challenging situations and Covid has brought that up to the surface. For many, home is not always the safest place and school was the one place where they were seen regularly.

"Many of our families live in one room, so you can imagine how hard home learning is if you are living in cramped accommodation and you have more than one child and not enough devices. The disadvantage gap between those children and their peers is going to get wider and wider."

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"Many children might not recover from what they are going through at the moment," said Sophie.

Photo credit: Andrew Crowley

Sophie, 40, who is mother to Maud, seven, and Isabella, five, admits to failing at home-schooling. "So I can imagine how impossible it must be for a family in tough circumstances. Children are simply not being educated and it's a complete tragedy," she says.

She continues: "For me, SHS could be seen as a fourth emergency service. I would love the whole of Britain to know about this wonderful charity so please share the link. When you donate, your money goes directly to aiding a British child in severe need.

"All children are born the same, yet some have every material advantage and others have absolutely nothing. While this injustice is a fact of life we have to, as a civilised society, fight for our least fortunate children so they can function and thrive on their own."

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