When social services become involved to protect an unborn child, who is there for mum?
Gateway Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service (POWS) is a unique service in this respect. Because, while social services and midwives – quite rightly – are focusing on the child, our focus is on mum. As far as we know, we’re the only organisation that can provide this intensive level of support to women during and after pregnancy.
The women POWS work with are referred to the service for many reasons. Many have issues with unsuitable accommodation, financial difficulties, problems with substance misuse, or risky relationships. All are vulnerable. Some have had children removed from them in the past, which means that their current pregnancy will be under increased scrutiny, bringing added pressures to an already difficult situation.
While this scrutiny and focus on the unborn child is necessary, it can often leave mum feeling bereft and unsupported, with her original needs unmet. And if she 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 a parent needs (and that social workers and family courts will approve of) can be virtually impossible.
This is where POWS support is invaluable. Not only does a POW work one-to-one with mum to come up with an action plan, helping her to tackle issues in a methodical way, but she will also liaise with social workers and other services to ensure that they are aware of the changes being made.
In the video below, you can hear from Chloe*, who tells us about the support her POW Shazia gave to her, and how it changed the outcome of her social services intervention.
Shazia says, “Chloe was proactive – she knew the dangers and wanted to change – but she needed emotional and practical support to actually get stuff done. I was able to be there for her throughout the pregnancy, not just at the end of the phone, but with practical advice – signposting her to other services, going with her to appointments, writing letters on her behalf and making sure social services knew she was making progress.”
Just having someone available to talk to is really important, so POWS work together to make sure all their clients get constant access to support. Shazia works part time, so she introduced Chloe to another POW she could contact, and made sure she had the number for the office too. If anything happened and Shazia wasn’t around, someone else would be.
Shazia continues, “There were times when Chloe doubted herself and times when she struggled to understand what she needed to do, but as time went on she started to believe in herself and that’s when she really started to make changes. She was keen to prove herself – even requesting things like additional drug tests – and just generally needing me to do things for her less and less. A nice example is when I rang her to remind her she needed to register the baby’s birth – and she’d already done it!”
As you’ll see from the video, Chloe is still making progress. She’s a lot happier now, and a lot more confident in herself. In fact, we found out this week that she has been given unsupervised access to her other two children on a regular basis.
Even when a mum doesn’t get the outcome she wishes for, and a child is removed, POWS are able to continue supporting her for up to eight weeks. However, it frustrates us that we can only work with her for such a short time. A mother is extremely vulnerable – and likely to fall into old patterns – during this period, so continued practical and emotional support and guidance is absolutely vital at this time.
Finally: the sort of support offered by POWS isn’t just something that would be “nice to have” for hundreds of families – it also saves a surprising amount of money. The approximate cost of taking a child into care for nine months runs into tens of thousands of pounds, but the approximate cost of the combined preventative services accessed by a vulnerable mum over nine months is less than a quarter of that.
*Name has been changed