POWS: so much more than pregnancy outreach

When you hear “Pregnancy Outreach Work”, what do you think of? Breastfeeding education, perhaps? Blood pressure checks, or birth plans?

The truth is, the women we work with need much, much more than this. The risks our Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service (POWS) clients have include:

  • substance misuse
  • domestic abuse
  • safeguarding
  • mental ill health
  • housing and homelessness
  • issues linked to being a recent arrival to the UK
  • other issues linked to financial hardship

The Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service (POWS) provides crucial extra, early interventions needed to support women with these issues – often because no-one else can.

POWs are able to work with woman from a very early stage of pregnancy; often from as early as 10 weeks. Take away POWS, and the standard maternity pathway means no extra support until the Health Visitor gets involved at 26-28 weeks.

We can do this because of our close relationship with midwives, who alert us to women who would benefit from an early intervention. It means that we can start to tackle – and often resolve – issues as soon as possible, reducing risks that might otherwise have affected the unborn child.

As well as filling this gap, POWs work alongside many other services, including Housing Officers, Midwives, FNPs, Social Workers and the emergency services, to create a “wraparound” support service for families. And we do so in an efficient, cost-effective way.

Housing

More than two thirds of our clients have a housing risk. Around 47% are in temporary accommodation (eg living on a friend’s sofa, or in a B&B or hostel) and another 21% are in accommodation that, although more stable, is completely unsuitable for bringing up a baby (access issues, no power, problems with damp or rodents, etc).

POWS help women to access the support they need, including helping them to understand systems and processes, to access and fill in forms, to make homelessness and housing benefit applications, to bid on properties, and to furnish social letting properties (which are usually let without curtains, carpets or any furniture or white goods).

Importantly, POWS support also enables other services and agencies to do their jobs more efficiently. Having a POW on hand to offer social, emotional and practical support means that a Housing Officer, for example, can concentrate solely on their remit: finding a tenant suitable accommodation. POWS also save time for Housing Officers further down the line, because those who receive our support are more likely to understand how to sustain their tenancy. Together, we create a more efficient and less costly system.

Mental health

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the women supported by POWS have a mental health need, but many would not have any support if it wasn’t for POWS.

All sorts of mental health problems, including “low level” depression and anxiety, can begin or escalate when a woman is pregnant or in her child’s first year. But with the right social support, many mental health risks can be reduced.

For women with a diagnosed mental health condition they’re struggling to control (medically “high risk”), POWS offer practical support, including help to manage medication and attend appointments. However, many of the women we see are medically “low risk”, with low reported wellbeing, or high levels of anxiety. Because they don’t meet the criteria of a clinically diagnosed mental health condition, they don’t qualify for extra support from other services. For these women, the one-to-one support a POW gives is vital, and has been proven to help.

We use the nationally-recognised DASS (Depression Anxiety and Stress Scales) to measure our impact and 50% of the women we worked with in the last year have seen an improvement in their DASS score as a result of support.

What’s more, a clinical study by researchers at the University of Birmingham, published last year, showed that the intervention of a POW was “beneficial in preventing postnatal depression in women with two or more social risk factors”.

Safeguarding

Most of the safeguarding advice for new mothers is based around the child. Of course, the safety of the child is paramount, but children aren’t the only people who need protection and support.

Collecting food and toiletries for our “baby bank”

So while social services and midwives are focusing on the child, our focus is on mum.

Just over a quarter of the women POWS support officially meet the threshold of “vulnerable adult”. Around a third of our clients have a child protection plan in place for the unborn baby. Often, we’re looking at a “double whammy”: a vulnerable adult with a protection plan in place for her unborn child.

If mum leads a chaotic lifestyle, with intermittent or no support from family or friends, then working on her own to build up the sorts of routines and networks that she will need as a parent – and that social workers and family courts will approve of – can be virtually impossible.

With a POW, however, there’s hope.

Not only will the POW work one-to-one with mum to come up with an action plan, helping her to tackle issues in a methodical way and providing her with important contacts, but she will also liaise with social workers and other services to ensure that they are aware of the changes being made.

In this way, mum is supported to be the best possible parent she can be, and mum and baby have a better chance of staying together.

This isn’t just a better outcome for mum and baby – it’s cost-efficient, too. The approximate cost of removing a child and caring for them in the foster system runs into tens of thousands of pounds.

Put simply: POWS solve issues and save money.

Chloe’s story

Chloe (not her real name) is a great example of the ways in which POWS can step in to break the cycle and stop someone slipping through the cracks. When we met Chloe, her two children had been taken into care and she had just found out she was pregnant again. She was deeply unhappy with her situation and desperate for things to change, but didn’t know where to start. Chloe has been brave enough to talk about what happened next.

 

If you are affected by the issues in this story, please click here to see a list of links and phone numbers that might be able to help.

2 comments

  1. Eleanor McGee says:

    POWS is a hugely important service. This is the right life stage to invest, both to give children the best possible start, and because women are open to change at this point. Your article illustrate the range of ways in which they are working towards these goals.

  2. Ann Forletta says:

    This is a brilliant article. It demonstrates the range and complexity of support provided by POWs to women and children many of whom are dealing with difficult and sometimes life threatening issues. It’s difficult to see how the new Early Years Service will ensure that the needs of this vulnerable group of clients will be supported if the POWs service is decommissioned later this year.

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