Author: Emma Wright

Pregnancy Outreach Worker interviews: Shazia

As the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service comes to an end, we’re reflecting on the last decade by interviewing some of our POWs about their work.

Jacque
Jahanara
Shaista
Shazia
Sophia

Shazia’s story

Shazia

Shazia has been a POW since the start of the service in 2007. At the time, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do – she’d done some teacher training but knew it wasn’t for her. However, as part of teacher training she’d met someone involved in the health sector, and felt immediately that she would be more suited to this sort of work.

Soon afterwards, she saw an advert for the new Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service and liked the idea of it. “I liked the fact that there would be no routine and I would be doing something different every day, and that I’d be in charge of my own caseloads. I always knew I wanted to help people and that’s exactly what I would be doing.”

Shazia puts her ability to engage with people down to her sense of humour. “I’ll make fun of myself if I have to. Helping clients to see the humour in situations breaks down barriers and brings people closer together.”

Shazia’s most memorable clients are those who have had issues with substance misuse. “When I started, my knowledge of drugs wasn’t great – I knew a bit about it but not much – but over the years I’ve learned a lot from my clients. Now, I understand the phrases people use, and the way users think.”

She continued, “the thing about addiction is: there’s no point in patronising someone or telling them they shouldn’t do what they’re doing. They know this already. They feel a terrible amount of guilt. They deserve to be treated nicely.”

She went on, “the pull of addiction is really, really strong. If the only people you know are dealers or addicts themselves, and they all have your number and know where you live, that’s a hard environment to get away from. Most of the addicts I’ve met started using in response to abuse or trauma from a young age – things they’ve never had any real support for – so the problems go very deep.”

Shaz recently bumped into someone she supported six years ago. As they chatted, the woman thanked her, saying, “you were the one who treated me like I mattered, and didn’t look down on me”.

Shazia says, “This person’s journey was special to me because I was the one who communicated with her the most, explaining what was happening and often being the person who had to give her bad news. She had a social worker, who was very good, but she didn’t trust her… So it was me who was her birthing partner, staying three nights in the hospital with her. And then it was me who explained to her that, because she hadn’t had four clean drug tests, it was unlikely her baby would be going home with her.”

When support ends, Shazia says it’s important to close cases properly by ending contact and making sure that clients are self-reliant. “It’s not fair on them if they continue to rely on me afterwards,” she says.

(Shazia went on maternity leave last month. When she returns next year, it will be to a new role within Birmingham’s new Early Years Health and Wellbeing service.)

Pregnancy Outreach Worker interviews: Jacque

As the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service comes to an end, we’re reflecting on the last decade by interviewing some of our POWs about their work.

Jacque
Jahanara
Shaista
Shazia
Sophia

Jacque’s story

Jacque came to Gateway at the very start of the POW Service in 2007. For her, it was the ideal job.

“I have a degree in Family Work and before I joined POWS I was working with families as an outreach worker and social therapist. Working one to one with families is ideal for me.

“I love helping people face to face, helping them to find balance and meeting their needs. Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them, and even just a fifteen minute chat can have a big impact. This kind of social support is vital.

“One of the great things about POWS is that we are from the communities we support, so we know what’s out there and can engage at a community level. The women we work with trust us, because there’s a mutual understanding. We can have a real heart-to-heart … it’s mom to mom.

“Over the years the POWs have supported thousands of women between us. The original remit for the service was to support ‘marginalised’ women – those who have experienced domestic abuse; women with mental health issues; families with no recourse to public funds – and over the years the needs have become more acute.

“The women we’re supporting now are more vulnerable than ever. They include refugees and people who have been hit really, really hard by the recession, so we are dealing with a lot of homelessness, and language barriers.

“Although on paper we do a lot of the same things that other support workers do, the difference is that we are more available; more accessible than most. We will come out to see people wherever they need us to, whether that’s at home, at a Children’s Centre or at the shops, and they can call us at any time.

“It’s our job to make sure baby is born healthy, and to reduce inequality. And the way we do that is to make sure mom has support from as early a stage as possible. If she’s smoking or drinking, or if she isn’t eating properly, perhaps because she doesn’t have the finances to support herself – then of course the child will be born into inequality.

“Some of the happiest times with POWS have been seeing people’s excitement at a new house, or seeing women breastfeed happily when they never thought they’d be able to.”

Pregnancy Outreach Worker interviews: Jahanara

As the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service comes to an end, we’re reflecting on the last decade by interviewing some of our POWs about their work.

Jacque
Jahanara
Shaista
Shazia
Sophia

Jahanara’s story

Jahanara has been with Gateway on and off for many years. Like many of our POWs, she originally joined as a Community Family support worker, but as a speaker of different Punjabi dialects, including Mirpuri, she’s also worked as a Gateway Interpreter.

As a POW, Jahanara works with a mix of women, but over the last couple of years has seen more and more women with mental health problems.

Recently she supported a client who has suffered severe depression and mental health issues after being raped. She had never told anyone about it – not even her husband – and it was only when she became pregnant with her husband that she finally started talking about what had happened.

“She’s in such poor health that she hasn’t really been able to look after herself,” says Jahanara. “But it’s my job to make sure that she will be able to look after her baby when it arrives. We have spent a long time talking and her husband now understands that he needs to really look after her at the moment.”

Sometimes it will take a while for women to admit they need help. On one visit to a new client, the pregnant woman told Jahanara everything was fine – but Jahanara noticed that her other children were going barefoot and wearing ill-fitting clothes. So, on the next visit, she took along some items from Gateway’s baby bank, including children’s clothes, baby clothes, toiletries and nappies. “She couldn’t believe it,” says Jahanara. “She said, ‘I only get £90 a week and it goes so quickly. You can’t believe how much you’ve helped me.’ It gave me peace in my heart.”

Often, women will have a number of support workers, but don’t feel like anyone is there to support them, themselves. “Sometimes women just need someone to make them smile, or to pop to the shops with them,” says Jahanara, “and provide a bit of moral support in everyday life. Most support workers are there for the child, but we are there for mum, giving her someone to rely on and a number to call in times of need.”

Pregnancy Outreach Worker interviews: Sophia

As the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service comes to an end, we’re reflecting on the last decade by interviewing some of our POWs about their work.

Jacque
Jahanara
Shaista
Shazia
Sophia

Sophia’s story

Sophia has been here since the start of the service in 2006. She says, “it’s completely changed in that time!

“Over the last decade – and the last couple of years especially – it’s gone from simple signposting and accompanying women to appointments, to supporting women with issues around safeguarding and substance misuse, and helping them through court reports and procedures.”

Sophia says she’s learned a lot as a POW, both on the job and from her colleagues. “We’re a good team,” she says. “It’s important for us to be able to offload onto each other, bounce ideas around, and support each other through difficult cases.”

Sophia explains how important it is for POWs to meet women as early as possible during their pregnancy. “POWS is a preventative service. Often, if we meet women in the first few weeks of pregnancy, we can start helping them to begin the routines and habits that will lead to a healthy pregnancy. We can sort out a lot of issues before they get to the point where the woman or her unborn child go into safeguarding.”

Sophia is keen to point out that POWS are there for mum, when everyone else is there to support the child, and that they can prevent safeguarding issues. “The whole reason POWS were brought in was to empower women. If we can support them to make their own healthy choices from the beginning, then we can prevent a lot of issues later on down the line. In many cases we can help to stop babies being removed and going into care.”

Many of Sophia’s clients are women with a number of complex issues. “One woman who always stays in my mind already had a teenage child, and she’d had another baby years ago who’d died. When I met her she was pregnant with her third child, but she was not in a good way at all – she was drinking heavily, smoking cannabis and more. She’d been referred to drug workers and social services, but she needed more help during her pregnancy so she came to us.

“I helped her to focus, really. By taking her out of her environment a bit, and helping her to make sure that her money went onto the things she would need for her baby rather than drugs, I supported her to start new, healthier routines.

“For many women, the only support network they have is an unhealthy one, so we can provide a different outlet – we’re there for her to talk to at the end of the phone, we can meet up with her at home or in the community, and we can support her with all the admin that having a baby brings – filling in forms, shopping for essentials and getting to appointments on time.”

Pregnancy Outreach Worker interviews: Shaista

As the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service comes to an end, we’re reflecting on the last decade by interviewing some of our POWs about their work.

Jacque
Jahanara
Shaista
Shazia
Sophia

Shaista’s story

Shaista’s been here for nine years so she’s a relative newbie!

“POWS used to work out of Children’s Centres, which was a bit isolating, so coming together to work out of the Gateway office a few years ago was the best thing. Being able to work as a team, sharing advice and supporting each other is important for us.

“I’ve worked across Birmingham, with all types of new mums, including teenagers and older mums, and in lots of different communities, from Washwood Heath to Handsworth.

“That’s what I love about the job: we’re out in the community, and anything can happen. But that’s also why POWS are good for pregnant women – because we can go to them.

“It’s all very well making an appointment for someone to visit a Children’s Centre, but it’s not always practical to expect a pregnant woman to travel, especially if they have other young children too. If they’re new to the area they may not be able to remember where to go, or how to get there on public transport, and if finances are an issue, then even bus fares can be prohibitive.

“We are also really accessible. We are there from early on in the pregnancy, because early intervention can be vital. The more that services are cut, the more vulnerable women need someone to help them prepare, and to navigate through what is often a very confusing and admin-heavy time.

“Clients have our phone number and they can call us any time. We can visit families in the evenings if necessary, and we can use our own transport to pick people up and take them to appointments. It’s this sort of flexibility that really sets us apart from other health professionals and helps us to build a more genuine, useful relationship with the women we work with. We’re not turning up in a suit with an official-looking badge, we’re just popping over to give them a bit of support.

“One of the things that has really helped us recently is the ability to use more modern technology in our roles. We all have tablets that we take to each appointment and that means we can help people to fill in forms, bid on council properties, and make appointments there and then. This can be really important for people who don’t have internet access at home, have limited phone credit, or find it hard to talk on the phone, perhaps due to language barriers.”