Amy, Mother, Family Valued, Newcastle
Amy (not her real name) had three children all under the age of 5. The children’s father was abusive and Amy’s home life was chaotic. Amy says that at the time she was “all over the place. When the kids were at home, I was struggling but I didn’t want to admit it.” Her children were with her for two years before they were taken into foster care.
“You feel like you are under pressure and like you are being judged.”
Amy found this hard, and it had a negative impact on her mental health. “I was distraught thinking ‘why is this happening to me?’, ‘how has this happened to me?’”
Time passed and then Amy found out she was pregnant. “I was over the moon, but I thought I’m not going to cope.” There were fears that the same would happen again, that Amy would struggle to cope and her new child would be removed, but this time Amy was introduced to Mel, a family group coordinator within Newcastle’s Children’s Services.
“And when Mel came into it, she said “of course you’re going to cope, you’ll be brilliant”. I’ve never met anyone like Mel before, she’s such a relaxed person. You automatically relax around her.”
Sarah, Amy’s mum, smiles when she speaks about Mel and the impact that she had on Amy and her family: “She’s absolutely brilliant. She’s like family.”
Keeping families together
Newcastle’s Director for Children’s Services Cath Mcevoy-Carr explains that family group conferences (FGCs) are an integral part of Newcastle’s relational practice work and their vision of keeping families together. Cath’s says that “Removing children from families should be the last resort and this [FGCs] allows us to explore what alternative options there are for families.”
FGCs are a meeting that bring together all the people in a child’s life to develop a plan to protect and support them. The process aims to be empowering for the family, giving them the chance to make decisions, working towards developing a practical plan for the child that allows them to safely remain with their family.
FGCs play a key role as part of the Family Valued model with their emphasis on relationships and having children and families at the centre of the decision-making process. Mel sums it up like this:
“It’s all about relational and restorative practice. It’s about giving it back to families and seeing what they can come up with as they know and love each other and can come up with the best plan for that young person.”
Family led decision-making
Amy had an FGC when she was pregnant and another just after giving birth to her new daughter.
“Mel was absolutely amazing. She came and picked us up and took us to the place where we needed to go and brought us up. It was comfortable, they had everything we needed. There was my mum, my daughter’s dad, my eldest daughter, my eldest son, and my daughter’s other Nana.”
Reflecting on her family’s discussion at the FGC, Amy was blown away by their support.
“My mum was saying ‘I can have her on this day and have her overnight if you need me to’. My eldest son said he could stand in and help to do this or that. Everyone has laid out what they can do to help me with my daughter. With all of that in place I know who exactly I can go to on those days when I need help. It’s all written down and I know that one day if I need one of them, I know where they are going to be.”
“I would definitely say to do a family group conference, definitely, definitely! It helps heaps! It really does. You might not think it at first because that was how I thought, ‘no way was this going to help’. But it really did.”
Sarah adds: “She now understands that there are people there for her.
Amy’s family have seen a change in her following the FGCs and the family’s plan for caring for Amy’s daughter. Sarah is delighted to see how Amy has grown.
“She’s a lot happier, she’s more confident. And she’s more onboard with everything, even with her older children. They’re all like “wow” at how much their mum has changed.”
This change hasn’t been lost on Amy too and she admits to being a more confident person and parent. “I’m such a better person now than what I was if that makes sense? I have got more confidence with family. I can go to them and ask for help if I need it, whereas before I couldn’t do that.”
With Christmas in the next few weeks there is a lot of excitement about having the family together and celebrating. “We will be around all the family. It’ll be my daughter’s first Christmas and we’ll meet up with her brothers and sisters and we’ll have a big family meal.”