Following a seizure, Shakeerah was diagnosed with a brain tumour at 12 months of age. In October 2013, she had surgery to remove it, followed by a one-year course of chemotherapy, which left her with a tracheostomy, unable to swallow and with a compromised immune system.

Shakeerah is now 5 and fortunately in remission.

“The tumour and corrective surgery damaged some of the nerve pathways in her central nervous system,” explains her mum, Yasmeen. “Shakeerah’s immunosuppression meant that she couldn’t mix with other children and the tracheostomy has made it difficult for us to leave her with anyone else. It was very isolating.”

Our Outreach team first met Shakeerah through HENRY, an evidence-based child obesity prevention programme which works with parents and carers to help develop a healthier and more active lifestyle for the whole family. They completed the Outcome Star programme to identify, manage and support positive changes, resulting in a noticeable improvement in family routine and general well-being.

When Shakeerah’s parents voiced their concern that she was missing out on the activities which other children of her age learn from and enjoy, YMCA Outreach Worker Karen started to visit the family at home, giving full-time Home Office employee Yasmeen a much-needed break.

“Karen was like a breath of normality in the house,” says Yasmeen. “She knew what age appropriate activities Shakeerah would like most and took time to paint, chat, sing and read with her. Shakeerah loved Karen’s company and, for that hour, I could relax in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, knowing she was in good hands.”

Yasmeen found that she benefited too:

“Karen was incredibly supportive of me as well. At the time, I was battling so hard to get the back-up we needed and Karen listened without judgement when I felt under pressure or upset.”

As a designated Sure Start Children’s Centre, YMCA Banstead Children’s Centre offers support and activities for families with children under five years old, in and around the Banstead area.

Shakeerah’s health has now improved to the point that she can attend nursery.

“She’s coming on in leaps and bounds,” says Yasmeen. “I’m sure that Karen helped to prepare Shakeerah by introducing her to the skills and activities which she would need at nursery.”

Before we had the support of the YMCA Outreach team, Shakeerah was missing out through no fault of her own. No one deserves that – regardless of the health needs a child has, they are still a child.