A BELFAST charity has received £700,000 to work with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in order to support children with brain injuries.

The Family First project will offer intensive support to children under 12 with acquired brain injury and their families.

Fiona McCabe, Chief Executive of Brain Injury Matters, said: “Acquired brain injury can be caused by a variety of things – a fall, a car accident, through a stroke or through an infection or an illness like meningitis. The effects can be very different depending on the person.

“They can have problems with organising and problem solving and everyday tasks. There can also be emotional issues such as mood swings, apathy and irritability. Because inhibitions can be lowered, they may encounter social problems.

“Families in these situations need the right support as without it they can fall apart. Parents may feel guilt and blame themselves for their child’s brain injury. Because there is understandably focus on the child with the acquired brain injury, their brother and sisters may feel confused and excluded. All this puts pressure on the family unit and can make the child’s rehabilitation all the more difficult.”

Fiona said the Family First project would include one-on-one and group support and training, as well as activities to promote independence, interpersonal skills and development. There will also be an online support forum with the aim of creating stronger families.

“Our rehabilitation team will work with families in their homes and in community venues to ensure the child’s needs are met and the family remains strong. We are delighted to get this support from the Big Lottery Fund.”

Anita Gulbe’s daughter Sara (19) developed a brain tumour as a child in her native Latvia. Since moving here, Sara has received support through Brain Injury Matters’ Younger Persons’ Network, which is also funded by the Big Lottery Fund. Anita said it has made all the difference to Sara, who now studying travel and tourism at South West Regional College in Omagh and is also a budding artist.

“Sara was a very good student at school – first in her class in Maths,” said Anita. “She lost all of that because she needed a long time to recover. She went back to school but it was hard for her because she was different and was targeted by bullies. Emotionally she’s affected – she sometimes cries very easily.

“As part of Brain Injury Matters, Sara meets other people like her who have been affected by brain injury. That has made her more confident because she is not the only one who is different.

“This new project is great because it will help families with younger children. There was nothing like that for us when Sara became ill in Latvia. It will help keep families strong.”