Inside Acorns: Home from home, full of laughter and above all else, love
It’s a full of colourful artwork on the walls, the sounds of children playing and smiling staff and volunteers.
But it’s also a vital lifeline for hundreds of families when they are facing the toughest of times.
Far from being a place of dark and gloom, Acorn’s Children’s Hospice in Walsall provides a home away from home.
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It’s somewhere families can turn to in their hour of need where they know they will be helped by dedicated and compassionate staff.
The charity believes that no family should be on their own when coping with a child’s life-limiting or life-threatening condition.
As well as dealing with the impact of a diagnosis, families have to cope with their child’s complex needs and provide round the clock care.
And that’s where Acorns comes in – the team is committed to doing everything it can to help families at every stage of a youngster’s life.
“Make Every Day Count” is the charity’s vision and it aims to make as many treasured memories as possible for families.
Children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions can take part in a variety of fun and therapeutic activities, from arts and crafts sessions to hydrotherapy.
Families are encouraged to live life to the full, make the most of their time together and create special memories with the help of the team.
But parents are also offered a helping hand, a listening ear and much-needed break when they need it the most.
At the moment 233 families are supported from the charity’s base in Walstead Road, Walsall, known as Acorns in the Black Country.
They can use Acorns for respite, short breaks, end of life and emergency care but there is help for all the family with support groups for parents, grandparents and siblings.
It is estimated that for every child with a life limiting or life threatening condition, five family members will be directly impacted.
Highly-skilled sibling workers working alongside a team of dedicated trained volunteers currently help around 380 children and young people to face a changed life and the associated losses.
The hospice has 10 bedrooms offering parents and youngsters the chance to personalise their space, which is also tailored to their care, with their own bedding and nameplate on the door.
There is also separate on-site accommodation for families, which allows them to stay with their child if they wish.
This is often used when parents leave their son or daughter at Acorns for the first time as it allows them to be close by to ease any concerns they might be having.
Whether a child is in for just a day or a longer stay, all of their laundry will be done by the house-keeping team.
When they are not in their rooms or receiving therapies and treatment they can go into either the children’s room or the adolescents room.
Each are kitted out with fun activities such as toys for the youngsters and game consoles for the older ones.
At meal times all children, teenagers, staff, volunteers, siblings and parents all eat together.
There is also a large garden with a play area and a sensory trail offering brightly coloured and fragrant plants for stimulating the senses.
It provides a safe space for youngsters and families to play outdoors together.
There is also a special memory garden which pays tribute to those children that are no longer with us. Parents are free to visit the garden, which contains stones with children’s names painted on them, whenever they want.
The charity provides support in the wider community, including a family’s home and a member of the family team is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. During the past year, Acorns supported 787 children and 1,223 family members across the organisation, including those who have been bereaved. It employs more than 420 staff in its three hospices, network of shops and head office while it also has an army of 1,600 active volunteers.
Bosses have paid tribute to these helpers at Walsall, saying: “We are lucky to have many dedicated volunteers, supporting staff and helping to create the home-from-home atmosphere that we can offer children and young people when they stay with us.
“We simply could not deliver the high quality of care at Walsall with the tremendous dedication of these women and men.”
End of life care facing huge challenge
Acorns Hospice is not alone in suffering a crisis in funding or having to make difficult decision as a result.
A survey released last month showed that increasing demand and rising cost of end of life care not being matched by government funding.
Hospice UK revealed one in three hospices are being forced to cut services, while 55 per cent either have, or plan to, delay or cancel the roll out future plans to provide end of life care.
And 90 per cent of hospices who responded said they did not believe they had the resources to meet the rising demand.
For 89 per cent of hospices who responded, the cost of providing end of life had risen in the past two years, but has not been matched by increased funding from central government.
The ITV News a study showed almost three quarters have seen their funding from their local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) had been frozen or cut.
The study showed the average adults hospice in the UK receives 30 per cent of its funding from government health budgets, for children’s hospices it is 22 per cent.
Tracey Bleakley, Chief Executive of Hospice UK, said: “This survey gives a bleak picture of the financial outlook for many charitable hospices.
“Rising service costs and an increasingly precarious ‘Jenga-like’ funding model are undermining the ability of hospices to provide care at a time when demand for their services is fast growing and care needs are more complex, with more people living for longer, often with multiple conditions.”
She told ITV News a reduction in hospice care would have implications for the whole country, adding: “Hospices are an important part of a wider care system for terminally ill and dying people and it is vital that there is sufficient investment for the whole system to maintain care provision and also ensure support for more people.
“Failure to tackle this will store up bigger problems and effectively create a care deficit for people with life-limiting conditions in the future.”
Claire House Children’s Hospice in Wirral is, like Acorns, struggling to maintain a service.
It has seen referrals rise by 84 per cent since 2013. It costs £4 million pounds a year to run the hospice, and costs have increased by 10 per cent per cent in the last two years.
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