Parents countrywide have greeted their children’s return to school with mixed emotions but for families supported by Camp Simcha the stakes are much higher.

Many, who have very vulnerable, seriously ill children, have had to weigh up the potentially life-threatening risks that Covid-19 holds for their child against the impact on their mental health and education if they keep them at home. 

Camp Simcha Head of Services Daniel Gillis explains: “Many of the seriously ill children we support have been on the shielding list. While many of them were told they could officially stop shielding last month, the risks if they contract Covid-19 are still very high.

“Understandably, several have spent the summer agonising over what to do. Our services team and individual family liaison officers have been offering emotional support and referring families to organisations which offer expert advice in this area, such as WellChild and Contact.

“For those Camp Simcha families who are keeping their child off school, we are also here to give bespoke support arising from their specific situation, including finding tutors or arranging emotional help such as counselling and therapeutic arts sessions.”

One Camp Simcha parent has taken the decision not to return her 15-year-old daughter to her Jewish secondary school in London at the moment.   

“My daughter has Cystic Fibrosis, a respiratory condition,” she told the JC. “She is now on her fourth hospital admission since May and has been very unwell.  Cystic Fibrosis has been taken off the paediatric shielding list but our daughter has been so unwell that her team have specifically recommended that she shield. The idea of her returning to school has been terrifying. When we discussed it with her medical team in clinic they agreed it was not a risk we can take right now.   

“My Camp Simcha family liaison officer helped me check what our obligations were in terms of her returning to school – and also how and if the school was obliged to support us if she didn’t return.   

“While our daughter is very frustrated because she was looking forward to being with her friends again, she understands why she cannot take the risk. The school has been sending work home and I am hopeful she will be able to dial in to lessons online. If things look more settled in a couple of months we will review, but right now with several children already isolating as school began, I just don’t know when or if we will feel it is safe for her to return.     

“Camp Simcha have kept us sane through lockdown and continues to provide invaluable support above and beyond anything we could have imagined.  When our daughter is in hospital, just the mention of Camp Simcha sees everyone nodding sagely agreeing how fantastic they at supporting families in ever new and amazing ways.” 

Sarah, another Camp Simcha parent from Manchester, whose son, aged 13, suffers from a complex medical condition which affects his heart and other areas of his health, has made the decision to send him back to school.

“We took him out of school just after Purim and, as a family, we have been very careful since then. He found that very upsetting because it highlighted for him that he was more vulnerable and that really scared him. He kept hearing the news reports about people with ‘underlying health conditions’ and he obviously took that to its scariest conclusion for him.

“We received a letter from the NHS about shielding being lifted and the return to school, but it was a general one – listing different conditions- and not specific to him. It didn’t really reassure us. 

“While we have agonised over what to do about school, on balance we felt that for his emotional and mental wellbeing he needed to go back.

“Of course, we are very nervous but we are trying not to pass those nerves on to him. He attends a small school and they have been outstanding. They are doing their best to make him as safe as possible.”