A little while back, I donated to the Pepperell's solicitors Christmas Meals campaign. I'd seen the campaign on Linkedin and thought it was a great idea, especially having been in the same situation as the recipients myself.
My specific situation came about because I'd been in a dispute in the family courts regarding child contact starting in 2016. At the start of the court dispute, I was actually doing really well. I'd completed quite a large freelance contract for a London based client who supplied high street chains like H&M, Top Shop, Office, River Island and ASOS amongst others; moving onto land a full time position at a software company based at the Deep Business Centre.
That success came to an end quite quickly when the court proceedings started. I found myself in a depressive slump and making small mistakes at work which eventually mounted up into accumulative reasons for the boss to suggest it wasn't working out; admittedly, the final reason was that I'd suggested I conduct a security audit and found that his email was using the universal company 'password1234' password.. subsequently finding none to flattering emails about myself to external parties; but that's a different issue all together. The key message of course being, security is important; so don't just assume you're safe.
It's funny actually, I remember the day I left that company very clearly because I walked home from the Deep Business Centre and straight past some filming for National Treasure involving Dame Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane. Both were stood roughly outside Three John Scots, just across from Hull County Court. It was a very surreal experience.
In any case, it was only a couple of months following that day that I had care of my children, Evelyn and Sophia; then aged 4 & 1. Everything was pretty rosey, or at least as rosey as it could be considering authorities were still involved monitoring contact and how well things were going.
Of course, at the time, having social workers popping round every few days felt very much like being investigated Stasi. It might be difficult for people who haven't had authority intervention in their lives to understand but it's very intrusive and paranoid inducing to have an official enter your home, critique you and your efforts and then pretend to be your friend whilst asking you what you'd like to see happen; especially when report upon report is written and your input can be taken completely out of context.
A good example of this which was repeatedly used against me was that I said as an 18 year old, that I didn't want children. That's not an unreasonable comment to make, I actually think it's quite a mature and objective comment to make in light of the circumstances at the time; but authorities kept referencing it in a negative light. I'm not kidding either, it cropped up in at least every other report regardless of validity or context.
This doesn't promote healthy discussion, in actual fact, it promotes the withholding of information and I've seen this from at least 15 families I've known over the years.
Reports aside, the real problems came about when Evelyn turned 5. There was a specific clause in the court order which specified how child benefit should be shared between Evelyn's mum and I.
The clause mandated a straight 50/50 split - which I had no opposition to - except the circumstances after the order was made meant that I cared for the children 7 days a week more often than not and now I had no money coming in because the court order meant that my benefits entitlement was no longer valid.
Speaking to solicitors, social workers, health workers, council officials and the DWP yielded little results. I don't want to get into a blame game, but it essentially boiled down to a form which needed signing by Evelyn's mum to release her 50% entitlement - which she had up to 4 months to do. Authorities hands were effectively tied, they couldn't hand over money, but the children and I were entitled to help from Foodbanks and such.
Of course, my situation is much better now so that's why I donated to the Pepperell's Christmas Dinner Campaign. For those 10 families, whoever they might be, in whatever situation they might find themselves, I hope they enjoy their Christmas and find themselves in better circumstances in 2021.
Kofi and I also got to speak a little bit about Parentull. I'm extremely grateful to the BBC and Pepperell's for the opportunity to speak about Parentull so openly. My experience and real world experience is driving the development of Parentull and thankfully, I'm able to use my skills to back that up with academic sources, connect with others in the same field, for example Mark Williams FMH and Colin Radcliffe, creator of DepressON.
You can listen to the interview with Kofi below and I'd definitely recommend sticking to the advice I gave at the end - finding someone you can talk to, staying off social media and focusing on your mental health.
Click here to listen to Interview (Copyright BBC Radio Humberside)