'It's an extended family for me'

10th February 2006 at 00:00
Margaret Donovan, 35, sits on an upper floor in Providence House making a picture with paints, glitter and stickers to show why she is "capable and loveable". It includes hearts to represent the love she feels for her family, cakes to represent the baking she does at home and as a volunteer in school, and musical notes (she is a steel pans player and carnival enthusiast). The stars dotted over the picture show her aspirations for a good life for herself and her children.

The picture is part of a group exercise exploring why children develop feelings of worthlessness, and lose their sense of being "capable and loveable". Ms Donovan, pictured, is bringing up four boys, aged between one and 13. Three of her sons have mentors from Boys2Men, and she is a new member of the parents' group. Her oldest child has been severely bullied and another has emotional and behavioural difficulties, compounded by the fact that at seven he is already as tall and as solid as a 10-year-old. He finds school frustrating, says Ms Donovan, and in recent months has tried to hit teachers and jump out of a high window. "His dad is around, but he's not consistent," she says. "He was supposed to come at the weekend, but he didn't show. Then it all blows up and he gets stroppy with the teachers, stroppy with everyone."

Ms Donovan already works with her boys' schools and social services, but she is hopeful about the potential extra impact of the boys' new mentors.

"They'll be able to curb them in the right direction by sharing their own life stories," she says.

The parents' group, held on a Friday evening, is child friendly and warmly accepting of new members. Workers also give lifts home. "I view this programme as an extended family for me," says Ms Donovan. "And it's good for me to get out of the house. Four children and London Transport isn't the easiest thing."

Maggie John is joint facilitator of the parents' group, and credits Boys2Men with keeping her family together. She says schools still have lessons to learn and asks why black churches such as the Seventh Day Adventists are not part of the RE curriculum. "Teachers need to be more aware of what's going on for ethnic minorities," she says. "What is the norm? If you're not it, you're abnormal."

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