Billy and Sarah’s journey of parenthood
A painful past
Both Billy and Sarah were well known to children’s services when they found out Sarah was pregnant with baby Tara.
Sarah had a difficult childhood. She was taken into care as a child due to abuse and neglect, only to find herself in physically abusive relationships, including with Tara’s father, Billy. Her two children – Andre who she had with a previous partner and Katy, her and Billy’s first child – had both been removed from her care because of her struggles with mental health, substance and alcohol misuse. She would go missing, often for days at a time, and couldn’t give her children the care they needed because of this.
Billy also had a painful past. He grew up with a violent father who was sent to prison when Billy was a teenager. He became addicted to cannabis as a way of self-medicating, and could be angry and violent as a result. Sarah often bore the brunt of this. But Billy described Katy (their daughter) being exposed to all the domestic abuse and being removed from Sarah’s care as his ‘wake-up call’. He recognised he was repeating his father’s patterns and was losing his relationships within his own family. So he stopped smoking cannabis and was able to make enough change to take on full-time care of Katy on his own.
But because of their joint history and multiple other areas of concern, when Sarah and Billy accidentally fell pregnant again, the decision was taken to put the unborn baby on a child protection plan.
Starting to see social workers differently
When Felicity began working with Billy and Sarah during her first year on the Frontline programme, they were very anxious about having her involvement and were very mistrustful because of how they had been treated by social workers in the past.
The last time we had a social worker it gave us anxiety and PTSD because they used to say stuff and then do other stuff. When you get slapped in the face like that you don’t trust social workers. You feel like you need to watch what you say – people shouldn’t be scared to be honest but that’s what it felt like.”
Felicity worked hard to build an open and trusting relationship with both parents, being honest and transparent about the concerns and what the outcomes would be if these weren’t resolved.
She was so open and blunt but understanding as well, it feels that she recognised everyone has a past but doesn’t hold it against you. She never made us feel uncomfortable, she explained everything, broke it all down and how we had to do everything. We never felt there was anything to be scared about – there was no sneakiness.”
She focused on baby Tara’s future, what this would look like with and without changes and used her training and skill to assess whether Billy and Sarah were able to think about this on their own. Using tools she learnt on the Frontline programme, she helped Billy and Sarah to reflect on their own experiences of being parented, and what impact that had had on them and, crucially, to reflect on the impact this had had on their children.
She knows what to expect and what to be concerned about. She’ll put it out there. She was blunt about how things could change. She will warn you about not messing up. She always put the baby first.”
Change starts to happen
One of the most significant indicators that this was really making a difference was that Billy and Sarah realised they weren’t good in a relationship together, and it would be better for them to live separately and co-parent as good friends.
The decision taken at the three-month child protection review conference was a testament to the progress made – the case was stepped down from child protection to child in need. Felicity continued to work very closely with both parents to make sure things remained stable and they were getting the support they needed from other professionals – peri-natal teams, the Family Centre, midwives and health visitors.
Just being the way that she is in herself, she won’t let you fall off the horse, she’ll make sure you’re doing what you’re doing, makes it easy to do stuff.”
Off the back of Felicity’s work with Billy and Sarah, and the wrap-around support she managed to get in place from other services, Sarah moved into secure accommodation, and got the medical support she needed. Felicity also got Sarah involved in a support network for care-experienced mums, where she started to build a strong network of friends with other mums who had been through similar experiences to her. Billy and Sarah carried on working to repair their friendship and co-parenting approach, and Billy continued to show determination to be the positive father figure that he never had from his own father.
A positive outcome
Just over three months after baby Tara was born, Billy and Sarah were doing really well – working together to give Tara everything she needed and continuing the work on themselves to be the best they could be for her. This meant all professionals involved agreed to close the case.
Sarah remains actively and passionately involved in the community and feeding into the services offered by the local authority to make sure other mums in a similar position get the best possible support.