Service supporting parents who have had children taken into care proves success

Grief and shame are common emotions among parents who have had their children taken into care, but now they are turning their lives around with the help of new services being rolled out across Wales.

One of the first of those Reflect services, run by Barnardo’s Cymru in Gwent, has just been evaluated by Cardiff University and the research showed that every parent had benefitted from the help and some had made significant changes to their lives.

While some parents had been helped to find safe accommodation, escape unhealthy relationships or tackle substance abuse, others who had previously been too anxious to leave the house, had started socialising again, begun volunteering or developed a healthier lifestyle.

The positive findings from the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) have been published at a time when similar services to Reflect have been introduced across Wales over the past 12 months with the help of £850,000 from Welsh Government.

Barnardo’s has been running the pilot Reflect project in partnership with Newport City Council since September 2016. The aim is to give women and their partners the time and support they need to make positive changes to their lives to avoid becoming repeat visitors to the family court. It is estimated that one in four women involved in care proceedings will face having another child removed within seven years without help.

James Saunders, Children’s Services Manager with Barnardo’s Cymru, said: “We know that for parents who have had a child removed from their care, accessing ongoing support has been difficult in the past. If their circumstances don’t change there is potential for the situation to repeat itself.

“Reflect has offered practical and therapeutic support to parents, helping them make long-term, positive changes within their lives. For those parents that have come to the end of the Reflect programme during the evaluation period we have seen an increase in their self-confidence, resilience and belief in both themselves and a positive future.”

He said the parents were often very vulnerable themselves with many being the victims of domestic violence, suffering long-term issues with their emotional health or struggling with substance misuse.

Dr Louise Roberts (pictured) from Cascade who led the evaluation said: “The findings provide encouraging evidence that the newly developed service is having a positive impact for highly vulnerable parents.

“The research findings highlighted the high level and multi-faceted needs of women and their partners and the process of building relationships and trust was often time consuming and challenging. The sensitive, respectful and non-judgmental approach of Reflect workers was important in overcoming these barriers and the ability of the service to provide practical as well as emotional support was highly valued.

“Parents appreciated having ‘someone on their side’ and women and their partners made both small and significant steps towards positive change.”

Parents are supported for up to two years. They get tailor-made help ranging from counselling and confidence building to debt management.

Reflect began in Newport as one worker in the Barnardo’s Newport Partnership following discussions with Aneurin Bevan Health Board. After a short pilot, funding was provided through the Welsh Government’s Improving Outcomes for Children and Young People Workgroup. It quickly expanded to cover the whole of Gwent and now Wales.

Neath Port Talbot’s Positive Steps project and Action for Children’s Reflect service in Carmarthenshire also provide support for mothers whose children have been taken into care and all remaining authorities have now set up similar services with the backing of Welsh Government. Barnardo’s Cymru are currently managing services for Cardiff and Vale, Merthyr, Rhondda, Cynon Taf and Bridgend as well as Gwent.

Services will be working together closely to promote consistency, share learning and develop best practice.