Louise Tickle explores the impact and ethics behind the very successful Pause project for women whose children have been removed in her recent Guardian article.
In it she asserts, “The complete lack of support offered to women experiencing deep trauma after losing a child to the state is a brutal reminder that they are nobody’s priority now”.
It’s a harsh statement that isn’t necessarily reflective of a lot of work going on with organisations such as After Adoption whose work supports everyone affected by adoption. It does however highlight the lack of understanding of the intensive support birth parents need and the reality that, in often already complex lives, they are left to grieve the loss of their children alone.
Our own ‘Breaking the Cycle’ project supports birth mothers in the Midlands, and After Adoption’s vision is to extend this further across the country.
We support birth mothers to help them understand their past and make positive choices for their future. We do this through one-to-one work and group work. We also offer an optional parenting programme for those who for feel ready to progress and birth mothers can access drop-in sessions if they want to keep in touch when they have finished the programme.
The aim of the programme is to increase the women’s self confidence, helping them to take back control of their lives. When they are supported to understand their past and their self confidence begins to increase, they are in a much better position to make positive choices for the future. In fact, since the programme started, none of the birth mothers who have taken part have had any further children removed.
What we ask of anyone taking part in the project is that they are able to reflect and engage in therapeutic work. We don’t make an issue about pregnancy and we don’t insist that the women use contraception. The emphasis is on personal responsibility and encouraging the women to take charge of their lives. We have had a small number of women who were pregnant at the start of the programme; they completed it and all of them are parenting these children themselves, with different levels of support.
We had high aspirations for Breaking the Cycle, but the success has surprised even us. The women who have completed the programme have made incredible progress, including getting back into work and education. Notably some have gone on to study nursing and counselling, with others going into volunteering. Some are still working on their own self-care journey and have accessed counselling services, showing what an improved understanding of their own needs they have been able to take away from the programme.
And the benefits of ‘Breaking the Cycle’ aren’t just personal. As highlighted in Louise Tickle’s report, the financial cost of a child going into care is huge at upwards of £32,000,* excluding support costs, for just one year.
For one mother to complete the Breaking the Cycle programme, the cost is £7,000, and with a lifelong impact. There is an obvious case for helping birth mothers get control of their lives, not to mention the social impact of many going on to parent successfully and the impact that it has on those children, who may otherwise have gone into care.
A lot of our work is about giving a voice back to the people we work with, so it seems fitting to leave the last words to a mum who completed Breaking the Cycle.
“I’ve got more confident in myself and saying: ‘Yeah, I’m not a failure anymore.’ Because that’s what people have been saying about me, that I’m a failure, that I would never amount to anything, but now I feel like I can tell them ‘Yeah, that’s what you want, but I can amount to something…”
*Personal Social Services Research Unit: Unit costs of health and social care 2015: Curtis, Lesley and Burns, Amanda