Personal reflections on witnessing child removal

Repeat removal of children into the care system is sadly a common experience for the women that are supported by Fulfilling Lives.


Repeat removal of children into the care system is sadly a common experience for the women that are supported by Fulfilling Lives.

The latest government statistics from the 31st March 2020 suggest a 2% increase in children who are looked after, with the total UK wide being 80,080 children.

The following article focusses on reflections of two Specialist Women’s Workers at Fulfilling Lives (FL) who, over the years, have supported the same client through removal of her children; the latest one being during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The article talks about the impact of witnessing a child removal in hospital has had on them on a professional and personal level but also highlights some of the obstacles and stigma women with multiple and complex needs (MCN) face; as well as the need for specialised advocacy and support services.

Some Background

The following experience is about Marie (not her real name). Marie experienced multiple trauma during her childhood and has a history of substance abuse. Due to a diagnosed learning disability, she struggles to recount information which is given to her; indicating that she might not always fully understand the meaning of what was said.

Marie’s previous five children were removed from her care by a different local authority several years ago.

Pre-Covid 19

Alice, one of the Specialist Women’s Workers for FL, reflected that when she attended a meeting with Marie, organised by two children’s services social workers assigned to her, that Marie must have felt confused and anxious throughout much of the process of having her previous children removed. This reflects the experience of many women supported by FL. It can be daunting to try and understand childcare proceedings with social services being involved as well as court or hospitals.

The reason for the meeting with the social workers was that Marie became pregnant again and Alice felt an immense amount of pressure to ensure Marie understood what was happening throughout her pregnancy, and what could happen to her child. Alice also wanted to make sure that Marie was represented sufficiently. Alice said that “This felt incredibly important, and I was left wondering what would have happened in the meetings if Fulfilling Lives were not supporting Marie.”

Marie seemed to ‘slipped through the net’ of services; not complex ‘enough’ for specialist learning disability services, but too complex for other mainstream services. This was a constant frustration.

Without FL’s trauma informed support, it would have been unlikely for Marie to be able to engage in the process. This included supporting Marie through creating a family history, a triggering and traumatic period of her life. Marie was tasked to seek legal aid due to children’s service’s involvement with her pregnancy. Again, without a support worker it is highly unlikely she would have been able to navigate this due to her limited comprehension skills.

Alice said that “Throughout the process, I often felt that by advocating for Marie, I was in some way undermining her child’s safety and advocating for an unsafe situation for the unborn child. For me, advocating for Marie was not mutually exclusive with ensuring the child was safe. I was not advocating for her to keep her child, but for her to be treated fairly and with understanding of her complex needs. It became clear with Marie’s case that there needs to be support for women who in all likelihood will never be allowed to directly parent, or have parental responsibility over, their children. Her mental health significantly declined when her child was removed from her care in hospital after the birth. As a result of this she disengaged from my support. Writing about this experience has dragged up some uncomfortable and upsetting memories for me. Going through the process of seeing Marie’s pregnancy develop, her buying clothes and toys for her child, and knowing the child would be removed, led to some vicarious trauma for me. During this period I had to administer CPR to Marie after she was found unresponsive at her accommodation whilst pregnant, as well being present when her child was removed. I found it difficult to maintain a professional boundary with someone who was going through such intimate and emotive things in front of me.”

During Covid 19

A little while after Marie’s child was removed, she became pregnant once more and started to engage with Fulfilling Lives again. This time Gemma, another Specialist Women’s Worker supported Marie. Gemma also witnessed Marie’s child being removed in hospital and she agreed with Alice about the experience of witnessing this event. “As a worker I have many years of experience supporting women who have had children removed from their care and at times helped them regain contact with children and supported them through the legal process. This was the first experience supporting a woman throughout pregnancy and at the hospital after the birth and during the removal by social services I felt very out of my depth. It was very hard to witness and sit with the trauma this woman was going through. Having worked with her for 18 months, I felt the need to protect her at times and avoid further re-traumatising. There have been times through this process that I have felt very overwhelmed with emotion but had to remain professional and swallow down the anger and sadness I felt in order to continue supporting the client.”

For Gemma, the process of Marie’s child being removed during the pandemic highlighted some flaws in the system. Due to Covid-19 restrictions Marie and her partner never met the children’s services social worker and advocates in person. All of their support was provided via phone which was a real challenge for Marie and often resulted in her feeling overwhelmed. Gemma observed that “most support services had not spent time with her 1-1 due to COVID so couldn’t get a real sense of her struggles and would often look to me to carry out work and offer support.”
Gemma attended Marie’s midwife appointments in person with her to make sure she understood the process and the information provided.
Advocating for Marie’s needs to be met by other workers has also been a challenge and took a lot of energy. Gemma’s impression was that support services and staff lacked insight and awareness and would often misunderstand Marie’s behaviour. She feels that women need to keep the identity of being a mum throughout the process of having a child removed and start the healing emotionally.

Where To Next?

Gemma and Alice have both highlighted the importance of working in a trauma informed way with women with multiple and complex needs who go through childcare proceedings. In order to do that, specialist workers and other support workers need a safe space to reflect; and clinical supervision is crucial to this.
Supporting women who have experienced removal of a child or children can bring stigmatising attitudes from professionals; but it is so important to take a person-centred and multi-disciplinary approach to make sure that mothers, not just the children, are being supported and looked after in order that they are able to heal and reduce the harmful cycle being repeated.

Authors – Gemma, Alice, Michaela

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