Leyla was only two years old when her mother died. Her mother had been ill for some time, had gone back to her family in her own country and, sadly, never returned home. Her husband then had to cope not only with two older daughters, who could understand what had happened but also with Leyla, who was just so young. He found it impossible to tell her that her mother had gone forever.

His wife, before her final trip to Turkey, had heard good things about Mary’s Pre-school and had already filled in an initial application. Leyla was due to start in summer. After his wife’s death, the father had to stop work for some time and managed to organise a home visit from Mary’s. That was when Sharon, our Manager, who went to his home with Alison, a Pre-school practitioner, discovered that Leyla’s mother had died.

During that visit, Alison had the opportunity to play with Leyla whilst Sharon talked with the father. Says Sharon: ‘So much of what we do when we accept a child into our Pre-school is supporting the family. That’s one of the reasons we do the home visits – to understand the family situation and how the child is behaving.  Even at this stage, we saw the uncles and aunties pandering to her and we observed an anger in her when she punched her cousin...which is not surprising when a child is so distressed. But we realised we needed to find a way for the father to talk to his youngest daughter and for her to understand what had happened.

Leyla’s father had said that he just wanted his daughter to be a child and to do what children do. Also, he wanted her to speak good English since they mainly spoke in their own language at home.

This was a challenge for everyone.

Coming into the Pre-school, Leyla only had a few words in English.  The staff talked slowly, used eye contact and gestures, taking time and patience to communicate.  There was another child who spoke Leyla’s language. The children became friends and the fathers me -  a meeting which also helped Leyla’s father to find support for himself in his community.

At first, it was hard for Leyla in the setting.  When she saw other mothers, she would ask why her mother was not coming back.  At times she became cross, at times she became tearful, at times she would not cooperate with her father.

‘We understand how difficult bereavement is – and we saw it in the way Leyla played.  She was acting out her life experiences – sometimes quiet, sometimes so physical’ said Sharon.  ‘We had some books about bereavement so we found a time with her father when we were able to talk to her and reassure her that her mother had to go but knew she was safe and that she had a family who loved her so much’.  Said her father, ‘We could use the different stories from the books and, though sometimes she would be upset, it was OK for me to spend some time with her in the Pre-school before I needed to leave’.

Leyla made friends and so did her father.  And when it came to leaving us, she was able to show him her very own special drawer – which had given her a sense of belonging and stability.

Said Leyla’s father, ‘The staff took her to visit the next school beforehand with her friends so she was happy to talk about going to big school with her sisters.  I don’t think Mary’s could have done more’.

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