How Barnardos Ireland Helped One Family Through a Crisis

Robyn Hamilton

November 19, 2021


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Each month we shine a spotlight on a different family-centred Irish charity as part of our Charity of the Year series. This month, we’re showcasing the great work of Barnardos Ireland. 

Barnardos Ireland provides practical and professional support services for children, young people and families working in schools and communities. The charity is committed to a needs-led, outcomes focused approach in its delivery of services to children and families.

Below you can read about how Barnardos helped 8-year-old Emily and her family through troubling times.

Emily’s Story

Emily is just 8 years old and struggles with sensory issues; loud noises are very overwhelming for her. She can get very upset, or have awful temper tantrums, through no fault of her own. Other times she would become very withdrawn. It was very difficult for Emily over the last year and a half, having to stay inside her house with both her parents, and her three other siblings; Shane, Freddie and Georgia. Because in this house, there was a lot of shouting and very loud noise.

You see, Emily’s 19-year old brother Shane had been struggling with a gambling addiction.

When he would lose money, he would become violent and start punching walls and breaking things in the house. He would shout a lot, and lash out at his parents and siblings. When this happened, Emily would run out of the room. She just could not bear it. Their parents, Sharon and Tadgh, would try to calm Shane down, they were trying to help him overcome his addiction, but every time they felt like they were making progress things got worse.

It had gotten to a point where they were afraid that confronting him would only make him angrier. They were such gentle people. Shane’s outbursts would make Emily very anxious and upset, and she would seek out safe spaces around the house to try avoid her brother.

From bad to worse…

Emily was becoming more and more withdrawn. She would hide at the first sign of conflict in the house. She would barely say a word at all and would avoid eye contact with the rest of the family.

Shane then started borrowing money to finance his addiction and fell in with the wrong group of men in his community. He fell into the vicious cycle of not being able to pay back the people from whom he had borrowed money. They would come to the house to ask for their money and become threatening towards not only Shane but also the whole family. One time, things got quite heated and Emily’s mam found Emily hiding in her bed under the covers, shaking and crying, overwhelmed by all the shouting.

The house did not feel like a safe place and Sharon was feeling so lost. Her own anxiety was keeping her awake at night, worrying about her children, especially Emily who was communicating less and less by the day… She worried she was letting Emily down, knowing how scared she was, and particularly how all the upheaval affected her emotionally. She was concerned about how withdrawn Emily had become, and how her friendships at school and with children on their road were suffering. When she would collect Emily from school, she was always standing there on her own, not talking to any of the other children.

Reaching out for a helping hand

Sharon contacted Barnardos, to see if they could help in any way. A project worker, Louise, began working with Emily on a one-to-one basis. Louise encouraged Emily to engage in various arts and crafts activities when she came to the centre, so she would become more comfortable and not feel like she was being rushed into talking. She also showed Emily how to make a stress ball by filling a balloon with toothpaste. Emily enjoyed making her own stress ball, with a yellow balloon, and started carrying it around everywhere she went. Little by little, she began to open up about her feelings and what she had heard, and her fears about what might happen to her family.

She was afraid of Shane’s outbursts, but she loved her brother very much and didn’t want to get him into trouble. She was just so scared when he shouted. And she felt her parents were afraid too, which made their house feel so unsafe.

She was also terrified that these other men would come back to the house, and hurt Shane or her parents. When asked about school, she said she wasn’t making friends because she was afraid that if she made a friend, they would want to visit her in her home and they would see what was happening with Shane. She just wanted a normal home, like the other children had. One where she could have friends over to play.

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Brighter days for Emily

Louise suggested to Sharon that Emily could attend the Friendship Group in the Barnardos centre, in addition to the one-to-one sessions. This way Emily could make new friends and they could meet and play in the centre, instead of having to go to one of their homes.

Barnardos has been working with Emily for close to a year now. Sharon and Tadgh also received some practical parenting support, to help them to help their children move on with their lives, in a positive way.

She is making progress each time she comes to Barnardos, thankfully. She loves coming here and taking part in all sorts of fun activities. She especially enjoys arts and crafts – she is very artistic! In addition, she has made new friends thanks to the Friendship group, who she plays with when she visits the centre. She is also learning to put words to her feelings and Sharon is noticing that Emily is becoming better at communicating.

Find out more about Barnardos

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Barnardos works with 18,000 children and families just like Emily’s all over Ireland. With your help, Barnardos can give them the childhood they deserve. For more information on how to support Barnardos go to

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