Today Frances is off to get some advice. She was knocked back the other week when she called the local further education college and the receptionist told her she couldn’t re-sit her GCSEs because ‘she would fail’.
Her ‘family nurse’, Jane, has set up a meeting with an educational project on the other side of town run, ironically, by outreach teachers from the same college. I had offered to drive them but Hassan’s car is now working so I’m to meet them there.
‘I think im here but dont no are you here’ says her text as I approach the community centre where the project is based. I pull over and call. They are in the wrong place – at the main college campus a mile or so down the road – and an argument is brewing between them. “Wait there,” I say. “I’ll come and find you.”
The argument is still going on when I get to them. “I’ve had it,” says Frances. “I’m ready to go home.” Mia is fast asleep in her car seat. I say hello to Hassan and suggest I take Frances in my car and let him follow. Time to cool down. We get to the right place only ten minutes late, not that it matters because it seems we aren’t expected.
We’re quickly directed to the right floor and sit down on comfy chairs with John, who, although he hasn’t had a referral sheet and (I think) has never heard of Jane, does his level best to help.
Do these professionals realise just how important these 10-minute consultations really are? Thankfully John gets it. He asks Frances about childcare (which she will need because Hassan is trying to get back to college too); he’s clearly peeved she has been given bad advice; invites her to come next week and sit an initial assessment and understands that their programme might not be the most convenient (9.15am start, three days a week).
“Give me five minutes,” he says, “let me see if I can ask one of the advisors on the main campus to see you and give you some more options.”
Frances isn’t sure.“What’s wrong?” I ask her. “It sounds like a good idea.”
“I don’t like the crowds,” she says, “all those people.”
John and I try to reassure her and he goes back into the office to make a call. “Right, all sorted,” he says on his return. “Just go down to the main reception and ask for Fiona.” So we make our way back to the cars – Mia is still asleep – and head back down the road to where we met up half an hour ago.
[to be continued…]