Amid all the flowers and chocolates of Mothering Sunday, it’s important to remember that motherhood can be a rocky ride. One mum of a boy with additional needs tells how she has finally found help thanks to Children North East.

AS Lyndsay watches her 12-year-old son cooking in their kitchen, calmly absorbed in creating his own home-made pizza, she wonders for the umpteenth time how this fun-loving, caring boy could so suddenly turn violent. Only months earlier, Matthew (not his real name) had attacked his mum, putting his hands around her throat, in front of his six-year-old sister.

“My daughter got my husband on the phone saying, ‘Dad, you need to come home and help mum. Matt’s strangling her and she can’t get him off’. My husband came home and managed to get Matt away from me and give me a bit of breathing space, but he had to take the younger two to school.

“But while Allan was out, Matt attacked me again, and this time he had a 16-inch carving knife, which he put up next to my face with me pinned up against the wall.”

Lyndsay was still at the mercy of her son when Allan arrived home and immediately phoned the police.

“We couldn’t cope,” Lyndsay recalls matter-of-factly. “Matt was 11 and this was the second time he’d tried to use a knife. So when the police arrived he was throwing things at them, he assaulted one of them and ended up getting arrested. It was the worst day of my life.”

It’s little wonder the couple felt at the end of their tether. Lyndsay had been struggling with her son’s severe behavioural issues since Matt was just three years old. “It started with tantrums and steadily progressed into more violent outbursts of aggression as he’s grown older and stronger,” she says.His behaviour has resulted in multiple school exclusions and regular physical conflicts at home. On this occasion, when the police came, Lyndsay refused to press charges – after all, how could she seek to prosecute her own son? “He’s my baby and I don’t want him in that system, I don’t want it to affect his future,” she says.

But the matter did go to a child protection conference last October which resulted in a child protection plan being put in place to keep the family safe.

Lyndsay said: “You feel judged and criticised, it makes you want to scream.”

Her frustration stems from the fact that Matt’s behaviour is not born out of malice, but is very much to do with the fact he has additional needs that have simply never been addressed.

Not until Lyndsay was put in touch with “supermum”, Maria Baxter, that is.

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Maria works for the charity, Children North East as part of their Sunderland-based Crisis Intervention Service. Not only is she a mum of five herself, two of whom have specific learning difficulties, she also shares her parenting skills with hundreds of other mums and dads who find themselves in the “last chance saloon” as she describes it. She is often the parents’ last opportunity to prevent their child going into care as she is specifically commissioned to work with families who have local authority involvement with their children.

UNLIKE often hard-pressed social workers who may have a groaning caseload, Maria has the capacity to devote as much time as a family needs. That might mean being in their home from seven in the morning until ten at night or working weekends.

Maria visits Lyndsay’s home every week and, partly because of her own sons’ experiences – one is on the autistic spectrum and another has global learning disabilities – she has been able to guide Lyndsay to services that might help Matt.

She says this isn’t a case of Matthew being a naughty child or Lyndsay not being a good enough parent. “This is a young person with traits of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and autism whose family desperately need the right kind of support,” Maria says.

Lyndsay, who works in Spennymoor, lives in Sunderland with husband, Allan; their young daughters and Matt, who is Lyndsay’s son from another relationship.

Before Sunderland Social Services put her in touch with Maria, she admits she was running out of fight but the involvement of Children North East has made a huge difference to all their lives.

“It’s so easy to talk to Maria because you don’t get the judgement. She isn’t looking around for things being out of place. She has a way of talking to Matt that gets him to open up,” Lyndsay says.

“She brought him some cakes and some sensory items to help keep him calm, they even made pizzas together. He was telling her how he feels, he was really receptive to her. He’s always been a closed book so that was really nice to see.

“When he’s not on an episode he’s lovely. He’s the best kid you can ask for, he’s loving, he’s caring, he’s polite. Without Maria’s understanding of the elements of ADHD and autism, I think he may have been taken from us. But we’ve got somebody fighting for us as well as working with us.

“With Maria, it’s all about the people, she’s a brilliant person. It gives you a sense of hope.”

The names of the family have been changed to protect the children’s identities

Maria is part of Children North East’s Crisis Intervention Team, based in Sunderland, that is about to move into a new city centre HQ in April in Bridge House, Bridge Street. Children North East is a registered charity working with children and young people in their families, schools and communities. In 2017/18 Children North East helped 3,584 children and young people from across the North East. This included: 226 babies; 177 pre-school children; 464 primary school children; 1,507 secondary school children and 921 young people between 18 and 25 years. Its Poverty Proofing the School Day initiative also helps schools create a level playing field for pupils regardless of their family’s financial situation.

Sandcastle Challenge

Every year, Children North East stages its biggest event of the year The Sandcastle Challenge on Sandhaven Beach in South Shields when hundreds of school children from around the region hit the beach to compete to build the best themed sandcastle. Businesses work with schools to help them realise their designs.

This year’s Challenge, on Friday July 5, has an environmental theme – Build a New World. If your school or business would like to get involved, telephone senior fundraiser, Carol Taylor on 0191 2562444.