Posted on: 12 December 2022

“It was a moment in time when I thought what I do is amazing - anybody who works with children and families. Small actions make really big differences to individuals.”

In 2016, Zoe Sargent joined CNWL as our Head of Children’s Services in Hillingdon. Not long after, she became Associate Director for Children’s Services, also managing our services in Camden, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster. This month, she was awarded the prestigious title of Queen’s Nurse.

She’s taking the reins on Year of the Child, a new programme showcasing our network of children’s services. We want to highlight the many different types of services we provide - last year alone we treated nearly 113,000 children for mental and physical health needs.

“Once I had children I wanted to do something a little bit different. It really sparked my interest in the young people agenda,” she says. “Getting in early makes a difference. Research shows that the experiences young people receive during their early years is key to their overall health and wellbeing in adulthood.”

Health visiting work with vulnerable families

Zoe is a trained adult nurse, but comes from a background of specialist health visiting. Health Visitors provide support and interventions to families with children in the first years of life, to help empower parents to make decisions that affect their family’s future health and wellbeing.

Zoe’s worked with the homeless, women in refuge and with voluntary organisations helping to break down barriers for care leavers. She’s even co-chaired the Domestic Abuse Forum in Richmond.

“Predominately I was involved with homeless young women living in hostels with their children. Looked after and vulnerable people became a passion of mine because a lot of young girls in these hostels had been in the care system. It was rewarding for me as a practitioner but awfully sad because they had no family around them, and probably had less opportunities than others.”

“There is one memory that really stands out for me,” she says. “I was working with a young unaccompanied asylum seeker with a baby that was 12 months old. She had no recourse to public funds and had left a very violent relationship. She was a great Mum but she had been through some very challenging times. Eventually she decided to leave the country to be with her mother and grandmother.

“After she left, I received a letter saying that the care I provided had given her resilience and strength to make a decision that was best for her and her child. It really touched me. It was a moment when I thought what I do is amazing, and anybody who works with children and families. Small actions make really big differences to individuals.”

Throughout her time at CNWL, Zoe has remained actively involved with this agenda, working with vulnerable families and children. She is the trustee of a charity called Cocoon, which provides financial assistance and practical support to care leavers between the ages of 18 and 25.

“Recently we’ve supported an unaccompanied asylum seeker – quite vulnerable and where English is his second language - to get a job as a Deliveroo driver. He wanted to earn money and do something differently so he wasn’t living off the state. He’s also in education and studying accountancy. We helped with funding so he could get a bike to support his job.”

Dexter_YOTC_Zoe story.pngOver the last five years, she’s helped with a project called the Christmas Day Dinner, now linked to Cocoon.

“We run an event for up to 70 young people, where we come together and we have a Christmas dinner but we also give out presents. They can get their make-up done, their hair done, plus we have entertainment and karaoke. We want to make this day really special for those young people. A lot of them live in hostels and have no family in the country. Some have been in care since they were two years old.”

Going forward in 2023 and beyond

Some of the impacts from Covid-19 are only now coming to light, but the most detrimental effects are being felt by those who are already disadvantaged, in particular vulnerable young people.

Year of the Child is one step we’re taking to address this - to let people know what help is available across our large portfolio of children’s services.

“Our teams have been really creative in how they’ve maintained their offer to families during the pandemic. We did lots of learning and the teams have adapted the way they deliver services so they can be more inclusive. The breastfeeding service in Camden now has enhanced offers using video consultations. They’ve reported that the uptake of fathers joining the sessions was amazing, and they’re able to talk to the mother and the father around breastfeeding.”

Zoe says it can be stressful at times, but she spends time cooking, gardening or sharing cuddles with her labradoodle Dexter (pictured). Zoe even has her scuba diving licence – diving in the Maldives, Florida and Egypt.

Find out more information about Year of the Child here