In the heart of Mater Dei, a temporary family housing facility operated by Depaul, the days are filled with the quiet yet significant triumphs of resilience. Martina McGeown, a dedicated caseworker at Mater Dei, sheds light on the unique challenges and joys of working with children in temporary accommodation.

Martina’s journey at Mater Dei began in July 2022, initially as a child support worker, before transitioning to a full-time caseworker role. “We’re here to meet the needs of our service users,whether it’s advocating for housing, health, or education,” she says. At Mater Dei, home to 16 adults and 21 children, Martina’s role is pivotal in navigating the complex landscape of temporary housing. A significant part of her day revolves around the children – from newborns to teenagers, each with their unique needs and challenges. “It’s about connecting them to the right services and support,” Martina explains. This involves liaising with community groups, organizing health visits, and ensuring that the developmental needs of the children are met.”

Her approach is proactive and hands-on, particularly for children not yet in school. Martina talks about activities designed not just for fun but as developmental tools. “Through a simple Play-Doh session, we can assess a child’s development and engage with parents on various aspects of their lives,” she explains. These activities provide a window into the children’s worlds. Martina also highlights the importance of child case workers in addressing concerns in child development, such as speech and language delays. “Sometimes these delays go unnoticed, especially with first-time parents or younger parents,” she notes. Her role involves gently guiding these parents, helping them recognize and address these concerns, often for the first time.

“Of course – the realities of life in temporary accommodation bring unique challenges. Martina touches on the restrictions that affect the children’s social experiences, such as the inability to host playdates or birthday parties due to building policies. This lack of normalcy in their social interactions is a part of the unseen toll of temporary living.

Yet, in these challenges, our service staff work hard to make sure that there are moments of joy and breakthroughs. Whether it be through movie nights screening the latest Disney blockbuster, pumpkin carving at Halloween or Christmas carol singing, there is always a sense of fun and creativity throughout Mater Dei.

Because of this, the bond between Depaul staff and the children at Mater Dei becomes very special.”You know you’ve made an impact when a child runs into your arms after a hard day,” Martina reflects.

As we recognise the critical work done by Depaul Ireland during Homeless Awareness Week, Martina’s story, and the experiences of the children at Mater Dei serve as a reminder of the crucial role of support services. These services offer more than shelter; they provide a space for growth,learning, and hope.

We asked Martina what she would say to donors if she could. She said “Every donation, every bit of help, enables us to offer those little extras that make a big difference in our service users’ lives. It’s these contributions that allow us to continue making a positive impact.”