Supporting young parents - a different approach

JfKL's Mark McDonald blogs on our unique model of advocacy support to help young parents engage with the agencies that make decisions about them and their children.
4 Jun 2018

At Just for Kids Law we work in a range of ways to support young people. I lead the advocacy team and support them in their work with our clients.

One element of our advocacy work that really stands out is our work with young parents. We have developed a unique model of advocacy provision that works to holistically support a young person so that they are equipped to engage with all the agencies they are working with. Our advocacy and legal teams sit together and work closely to share expertise so that young people are equipped with the resources they need in good time. We believe that if the young person is brought into the decision-making processes then they are more likely to achieve a positive outcome.

In our advocacy work we see real issues in terms of the support available for young parents. Many of the young parents we work with are care-experienced and face the prospect of a child protection plan for their child or the traumatic experience of having their child removed. We do, of course, all know the statistics for those with experience of the care system. One in ten care leavers age 16-21 have had a child taken into care and that nearly half of all mothers who have had a child removed from their care have been in care themselves. We have seen these statistics played out all too frequently in the lives of some of our clients.

We have found that there is space for another approach; one that might address some of these issues, and could support young people and services in working together to reduce the need for involvement. This can enable young parents to make the most of the resources available to keep their children in their care.

Our advocates have seen positive outcomes if they support a parent while they are still pregnant, by informing them of their rights and entitlements and linking them into other support services as soon as possible, including; therapy, parenting classes, relationship support services and so on. This means the parent is equipped to deal with Children’s Services expectations of them. Sadly, if parents are referred to the project just weeks before a final hearing in care proceedings the outcome can be very different. Help and particularly early help, seems to mean the difference between these parents safely keeping their children in their care, and not being able to.

The specialist young parent’s advocate at Just for Kids follows our model of advocacy to make sure that all the areas of need are taken into account. Our advocates not only work with a young parent to support them in talking with all the agencies they are involved with - we work alongside an in-house legal team to share expertise. This allows us to support the young person in responding quickly to the challenges they might face. We also work closely with community stakeholders such as therapeutic provisions, specialist accommodation and learning spaces. This allows us to support young people to engage creatively in the services that are a good fit for them.

We found through conversations with the young people we were working with that they wanted to share their experience and to benefit others who might be going through the same thing. With this in mind we worked closely with them and social workers, solicitors, and judges to co-produce an animated film: ‘If I Could Talk To Me’. The topic of the film is of course sensitive and can provoke a strong response; its aim was not to criticize those working with young people but to explore the experiences of those who had been through the process. It navigates the emotional rollercoaster that the child protection process can induce, a sense of the unpredictable, of being surrounded and advised by a group of professionals you may not know, of trying to live up to a standard that can sometimes change – all the while going through the experience of being pregnant or caring for a small child.

When we asked young parents what advice they would give to someone else going through the same process they said ‘get an advocate, or someone else you can trust to go through it with you’.

Our hope for the project and for the film is that young parents are empowered to effectively engage in the support that is out there, so that they are better able to keep their families together and make a fulfilled, stable and safe future of their own.

This article originally appeared in Research in Practice, 15 May 2018