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Children and families: improving support

This theme explores the issues concerning children and families and how they affect women who are homeless. It is being led by Expert Group member Dame Clare Tickell, Chief Executive of Action for Children. Read the theme round-up here.

Please post your submissions, see what others have submitted, and join in the discussion.

Dame Clare says:

Estimates suggest that up to 1 million children in the UK are at risk of being trapped in the same cycles of deprivation and neglect as their parents.

Across sectors, we also need to develop more effective professional relationships with vulnerable parents in order to improve outcomes. We need to better recognise the skills and abilities they do have and nurture both the parent and the child’s sense of being capable, resilient and able to achieve their potential.

Of course, early intervention services require adequate funding. Despite increasing demand on already stretched services, we’ve seen preventative services being cut or de-prioritised.  Local authorities should be supported to provide early help, as well as later interventions for vulnerable children and families. In particular, there should be no further reduction in housing related support. We need more supported housing for homeless women.

We need a national debate on the needs of vulnerable women and their children and the Rebuilding Shattered Lives campaign provides that opportunity. I’m looking forward to the conversation and hearing more on innovative practice, particularly from those who work with both homeless women and their children.

Read more from Dame Clare about these issues in her blog.

Join us by showcasing your best practice and innovations, view, ideas and client voices.

We particularly want to hear about:

  • Support around relationship issues for homeless women, including loss and bereavement
  • Family support services that work with homeless women
  • Pregnancy support for women experiencing homlessness, access to antenatal services and multi-systemic therapy
  • Early intervention services that prevent neglect, family separation and homelessness
  • Working with Children’s Social Services and access to and contact with children
  • Housing options for women with children, including children with disabilities and families requiring support to rebuild relationships
  • After adoption / fostering support or counselling

If you have already joined the campaign, please log in to submit evidence. If you are not already a member, please click here to register. Please submit your contributions by 31 December.

Theme started on: 02 Nov 2012

25 Submissions

  1. Jane Glover

    Re-Unite is a UK based housing project. We provide a package of support and access to housing for mothers that have been separated from their children whilst serving a prison sentence.

    The founding partners of the project Commonweal Housing, Housing for Women and Women in Prison noticed that there was a real need to help these mothers, as there is no provision of family housing on release for mothers that are not in custody of their children. This issue causes a catch 22 situation because without suitable family accommodation it is much more difficult for the mothers to regain custody of their children.

    We currently work with women that have a reasonable prospect of being re-united with their children, either on their day of release or for ours Mothers’ Programme within 6 months of release. We work with the mothers, various support, and governmental agencies to ensure that the women and children are re-united successfully in safe and secure accommodation that allows them to prepare for fully independent living up to a year after they are released from prison.

    For more information see: http://www.re-unite.org.uk/

  2. Haringey West MH Projects Residents

    One woman’s view:

    Homelessness and housing projects could do more to support women to have contact with family or children. The key is looking at visitor policies and residents being able to have family to visit them and even stay over. In some projects the rule is that visitors are not allowed to stay in bedrooms and this can prohibit contact. You don’t feel confident to invite family over as you don’t want everyone knowing your business.

  3. Joss Smith

    Adfam’s mission is to improve the quality of life for families affected by drug and alcohol use. Their projects include many which help families stay together and prevent homelessness. These include:
    • Adfam grandparent carers project
    The Adfam Grandparent Carers project is looking at existing services in London and developing new ways of supporting grandparents who are bringing up their grandchildren because of parental substance misuse.
    • Bouncing Back! Prevention programme
    This project centred around preventative work with drug using parents and their children, and also produced a learning pack for resilience work with young people and their families.
    • Criminal justice work
    Adfam’s criminal justice services aim to reduce the potential for substance related harm to prisoners, families and the wider community and to improve the potential for successful rehabilitation following a substance users release from custody.
    • Domestic violence
    In partnership with the Stella Project and the University of Bedfordshire, this 2-year, Comic Relief funded project explores the relationship between substance misuse and domestic violence for families.
    • Including Diverse Families
    Men, people in rural communities and those from minority ethnic backgrounds are underrepresented in the drug and alcohol family support sector. Including Diverse Families is a recently completed 3-year project which examines, and provides guidance and training around, this underdeveloped area.
    For more information see: http://www.adfam.org.uk/

  4. Rhian Beynon

    Family Action believes that with support an individual or a whole family can achieve its potential, whether this is in a practical, emotional or a financial sense. With over 140 years of experience, we are England’s leading family charity and our services help over 45,000 disadvantaged children and families every year.

    We believe that wherever possible children should be supported to achieve their potential within their own family. This cannot be achieved if a child is not seen in the context of the whole family. The needs of parents, as well as their children, must be considered. Improving the quality of relationships between parents and children and their wider kinship and social networks is integral to all of our work.

    Through a range of our services, Family Action is able to plug the gap through which families with complex needs often fall, keeping children safe while addressing their long term needs. Through early intervention we help to prevent family separation and problems spiralling to a point at which women and their families are at risk of homelessness:

    · Building Bridges services – intensive homes based support supporting families with multiple complex needs including where the parent has an enduring mental health problem.
    · Perinatal Project – volunteer befriending supporting mothers at risk of depression during their pregnancy and up to one year after the birth of their child.
    · WellFamily services - holistic counselling services linked to GP practices.
    · Welfare Grants – including to families fleeing domestic violence

    For more information see: http://www.family-action.org.uk/

  5. Laura Smith

    On 22 October we held a Women Rough Sleepers Conference in London where we held some breakout sessions. These were some of the points raised by the groups:

    What changes to current services or additional support is needed?

    • Public awareness- attitude towards women + the experiences they have been through
    • Working in school- national curriculum – citizenship
    • Citizen advice – cuts have affected women- there is a need for more advice to be available at an early stage
    • The demand for women’s provision/ homeless women that come forward to services can go up and down and so it is difficult to judge demand and commission appropriate services
    • Dogs as pets are a second stage hosuing/cleaning house/PRS barrier- need more accommodation that take dogs
    • We need a ‘Housing first’ model specifically for women. In Camden SHP are running a housing first pilot with 10 people, the majority of them women
    • Falling number of detox places
    • Specialised women’s homelessness training
    • Offer what women want by asking
    • Is there disconnection between local connection focus+ needs of women around mental health and domestic violence?
    • Is independent legal advice available to women to support them to make a case to be housed out of borough?
    • Domestic violence support, early intervention
    • Accommodation for women when they are in crisis
    • Campaign/educate/ increase awareness of DV impacts
    • Help men change thinking/attitudes
    • Preventive work related to sex working, work with men who by sex
    • More court diversion schemes
    • More pan-London provision- Issues around gate keeping
    • Improve services for women with undiagnosed mental health issues
    • Covering gaps for women with NRPF
    • Women are still objectified
    • Education in schools-services for men + protecting those at risk or abused

    What are the key challenges/good practice for supporting women rough sleepers with issues related to pregnancy, children or family contact?

    • Safeguarding – children being able to visit women. Needs a pan London approach to accommodating women in places they can host visits from children
    • More Contact Centres or other projects are needed where parents and children can meet in a safe environment.
    • Mil Hill Women’s action housing was a project on church land for women escaping DV where children could stay- this is now closed
    • More work is needed with social services around pregnancy, poly drug use, and the impact of losing children on women, accessing/contacting children lost previously.
    • More awareness needed on alcohol foetal syndrome
    • More support is needed around the feelings of guilt women face over lost children- this can lead to increased drug/alcohol use and MH problems
    • Have a policy in place
    • Hestia domestic violence refuge/outreach working with children and women in Camden in partnership with Hopscotch
    • Homeless women with children are an ‘uncharted group which is ridiculous’
    • Cultural factors: giving a save space to talk
    • Need to cultivate partnerships- MARAC’ style for women with complex needs not just for extreme high risk cases- more joined up work
    • Services not being joined up, which means one service supports a mother and another service supports a child

  6. Jean Milsted

    Norcap Overview
    • A national organisation focused entirely upon supporting adults affected by adoption
    • A registered Adoption Support Agency and Intermediary Agency
    • A registered charity and a company limited by guarantee managed by a board of trustees. The trustees act in a voluntary capacity; they receive no remuneration
    • The services of the charity are available to adopted adults, birth parents and other relatives, and adoptive family members and other people affected by adoption or adoption reunion issues
    • Adoption agencies, adoption support services, local authority adoption services and other organisations with an interest in our work are encouraged to subscribe to the organisation and purchase services
    Norcap provides
    • A range of specialist services for adults affected by adoption including: Locate and Make Contact for adopted adults and for birth relatives, different kinds of intermediary services including ‘Recovery and Support” and a register match intermediary service, and counseling.
    • Operates the largest UK adoption contact register
    • Gives guidance on how to locate lost relatives
    • Undertakes work under Section 98 2002 Adoption Act, providing a specialist intermediary service to facilitate renewed contact between adopted people and members of their birth families
    • Provides a range of Adoption Support Services for adults through contracts or service level agreements with Local Authorities: Access to Birth Records, Access to Information on adoption records, Intermediary Services
    • Campaigns on issues important to adults affected by adoption
    • Makes the wishes and views of adults affected by adoption known to government
    • Maintains a network of home based volunteers who the organisation has trained and equipped to provide individual support, assistance and guidance to service users
    • Runs an active and lively Facebook page
    • Runs an annual Service of Reconciliation on the Saturday before Mothers’ Day, plus a Memorial Service for those whose relatives have died
    • Membership for those who want to help give something back
    • NORCAP News – members’ newsletter
    • Organises or contributes to many local groups run for adults affected by adoption
    • Advocates with other service providers on behalf of subscribers
    • Strives to increase the funds available to pay for services needed by people who cannot afford the full cost involved
    • Publishes accounts of personal experience of adoption and other associated topics
    • Signposts people to other sources of support and assistance
    • Provides a range of training and consultancy services
    Contact NORCAP: [email protected]
    Tel: 01865 875000
    Web: http://www.norcap.org.uk
    Facebook: Adults Affected by Adoption - NORCAP

  7. Amy Hall

    A community nursing award was recently won for partnership work between the Health Inclusion Team and Sexual Health Outreach Team (both part of Guys and St Thomas’ community services) and the work they have been doing at St Mungo’s South London Women’s hostel. This has involved putting on sexual health and contraception training for the staff and then running lunches every 6 -8 weeks for the last year to engage the women (after asking the women how they wanted sexual health and contraception advice). The lunches are in the hostel and are run as open access / drop-in sessions. Sexual health promotion and contraceptive advice has been given in this informal setting so that the women feel comfortable to ask any questions / feel they can trust the professionals involved. They have been able to have full sexual health screens and been offered to have any contraception initiated on site. 3 women have had the contraceptive implant inserted as a result of this and several have had full sexual health screens. It is felt that an increase in awareness amongst all residents has increased as a result.
    The other work that the clinical nurse specialist from the Health Inclusion Team does involves looking after all the health of the women at the hostel- including any women who are pregnant. Full health screens are offered and the women are outreached regularly, despite this there have been 3 pregnancies this year (one of these was a women who came into the hostel already 4 months pregnant). These women have complex issues including street sex working, substance misuse problems and mental health issues- so linking them into the specialist midwifery teams and raising alerts with local hospitals in case the women present to give birth early is also carried out. This liaison has meant that the specialist midwifery service and the nurse have regular contact and can optimise their outreach with the women by not duplicating work. The aim of this is to try and give the women and the unborn child the best opportunity to stay healthy and ideally together.

  8. Esther Sample

    St Mungo’s with pro-bono support from the global law firm DLA-Piper, have produced a legal guide on homelessness and access to children as part of our Women’s Strategy (document attached).

  9. BHWR

    St Mungo’s Birkenhead Hostel held a Women’s Fair on 5th December 2012. This was an opportunity for residents to meet local women’s services, access acupuncture and other therapies, and contribute their views on issues that affect women. A summary of their comments on children and family are below:

    • ‘I am in contact with my daughter and grandchildren and am supported with this by both [email protected] and the staff at Birkenhead Street Hostel.’
    • ‘More women’s groups and organisations are needed to discuss problems related to children, also women only counsellors and one to one.’
    • ‘Children under 16 are not allowed in my hostel and I think that is for the best because of the drug and alcohol use. Women should be supported to go and meet their children elsewhere. Some can’t afford the travel fares to go and visit children or family. They need support to budget and save up money rather than spend all of it on drugs or alcohol.’

    Social Services
    • ‘With Social Services, women should be treated better than they are now, they need more support.’
    • ‘Most of the time women with children in care are looked at as bad mothers. I know someone whose kids have gone into care and it was her partner’s fault, he was drinking and they were taken because of him. It is often the man’s fault not the woman’s, and she is the one who gets judged.’
    • ‘It would be better if more women had a chance to go to rehab and when they come out see their child and be reconnected. Instead often the child has already been adopted.’

    • ‘Loads of women don’t hold it together if they lose their children. They need more support and an opportunity to talk about it.’
    • ‘Bereavement counsellors should be more available to women. My father passed away and I have never been to see a bereavement counsellor.’

  10. Hilary Hunter

    MATCH is a charity that offers non-judgemental support and information to mothers apart from their children in a wide variety of circumstances. Our members include those who are sharing parenting and those who have little or no contact. We believe that children have a basic human right to continue to be part of a loving, nurturing family network for life, no matter how many times that family re-makes itself, no matter where their mothers live.

    If you are a mother who no longer lives with your child as a result of local authority care proceedings and your child is either in care, being fostered, under a special guardianship order or has been adopted MATCH can support you. Being a member of MATCH will enable you to be in contact with other mothers who live with the day to day realities of this situation. Whether you have face to face contact, letterbox contact or no contact at all, you will find other members with whom you can share your feelings and strategies for coping with living apart from your child.

    For more information see: http://www.matchmothers.org/

  11. Kate Moss

    Women Rough Sleepers is an EU DAPHNE-funded project which aims to increase the knowledge base related to domestic abuse suffered by Women Rough Sleepers. We are also working to develop knowledge transfer activities that equip organisations so that they can set up or adopt effective policy, strategies and services to meet the needs of Women Rough Sleepers. The project will lead to the development of an EU wide network to facilitate future collaboration, be a joined-up voice in this field and by offering a range of services assist in the further sharing, development and enhancement of knowledge and expertise in this field.

    In our research to-date, issues related to motherhood and children have come out as extremely important for women rough sleepers. In the UK, 65% of women interviewed had children who were not currently in their care, in Hungary this was 75% and Spain 90%.

    To find out more about this project see: http://www.womenroughsleepers.eu/

  12. @disabled_parent

    DPPI (Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood International) is a small England based registered charity, controlled by disabled parents, which promotes better awareness and support for disabled people during pregnancy and as parents. DPPI believes that disabled people have an equal right to information and choice in all aspects of pregnancy and parenting.
    Who we are for:
    • disabled people who are already parents and those who wish to become parents
    • health and social work professionals
    • other individuals and organisations concerned with disability and/or pregnancy and parenting.
    Our services:
    • A free, confidential enquiry service offering information and advice to disabled parents and professionals;
    • Publications: accessible guides on disabled parenting;
    • Training and consultation for health and social care professionals;
    • A website, which provides information, news and articles.

    People contact DPPI for many reasons and often the issues raised are complex. Information officers provide an individual response to each enquiry. DPPI produces a number of guides on different aspects of disabled parenting available in a range of accessible formats. We also regularly publish articles on the website to raise awareness of the concerns of disabled parents and build bridges between disabled people and professionals. These include personal experience, good practice and research articles, as well as resource reviews.
    For more information see: http://www.dppi.org.uk

  13. Jill Shawe

    CLASH @ St Mungo’s (Central London Action Sexual Health) is a dedicated outreach service based in Camden at three St Mungo’s hostels. The objective is to target vulnerable hard to reach groups such as sex working women, and the homeless. The multidisciplinary team works with the aim of empowering those within these groups to improve their sexual and reproductive health, in order that they can live independently, safely and to help them engage with services to improve mental and physical health, and their social and economic wellbeing. This includes support to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and health advice to women if they do become pregnant.

    The funding from the Burdett Trust for Nursing has allowed the team to work with clients on a 1-2-1 basis providing a comprehensive sexual health screening, treatment and advice service. This service includes contraceptive provision, HIV and other Blood Bourne Virus testing and treatment and vaccination where applicable. At two out of the three sites we are able to perform minor procedures and examination such as contraceptive implant insertion and cytology. By providing this service the clinics have already identified infection and health needs that had previously been undetected and unmet.

  14. Pippa Hockton

    Street Talk provides mental health care to women who are trapped in street based sex work and women who have been the victims of trafficking. The services provided include counselling, clinical psychology, group therapy, mediation, advocacy and representation before the courts.
    When a person experiences repeated abuse, their confidence and self-belief are destroyed and eventually they might even believe that they deserve to be hurt. The first step in helping someone who has been repeatedly abused, is to enable them to believe that they deserve better. This is an essential first step, without which other forms of help are likely to fail. Our aim is to reach some of the most vulnerable and marginalised women on our streets to enable them to feel entitled to live safely and with dignity: http://www.streettalkuk.org/
    In my experience, Women’s housing situations are used against them when it comes to custody of children. Social services frequently use having no appropriate housing as a reason why children should be removed.

    I worked with one woman recently whose child was adopted after 4 long days in court, the main reason given that the woman had no recourse to public funds and therefore no access to housing. The court felt that she was at risk of going home with men just to get a roof over her head. She was able to be a good mother but they were separated purely because no accommodation was available.
    The work we do with women rough sleepers, particularly those with no recourse to public funds reminds me of the days of the film Cathy Comes Home- the children are taken away from the mother ‘automatically’ with no option of being supported and housed together. If someone was to put in the right support this could be avoided, because there are some who have the capacity to be good parents.
    Some women choose to give their child up for adoption, but for others who feel a bit ambivalent or worried, or do want to keep their child, they need support at that early point to know that they have a right to fight for their child. Most women in that situation do not know they are entitled to fight, they just hear from social services that their child ‘will be removed’. It takes legal support, and continuous emotional support throughout the process – with this many more mothers and children could stay together with great outcomes for both.
    An example of when we have helped a woman to keep her child, was a woman who had insecure immigration status, experience of domestic violence and had become involved in prostitution. She had so much love for her child and would do anything to keep them together. We arranged a lawyer who helped sort out her immigration status and the day centre [email protected] helped her to access housing. She was also accessing regular counselling through Street Talk. With these factors taken into account the lawyer was able to make social services revoke the decision and she now has custody of her child as is doing great.
    I do feel the courts are more risk adverse since Baby P, but when they are aware that another agency like Street Talk is involved, this seems to really help the case. They feel that another agency is keeping an eye on the woman and will report if there are concerns. Unfortunately we don’t have the capacity to meet the demand in this area and each case is extremely time intensive. Courts look favourably on agencies attending with a woman and so we are frequently spending whole days in court on individual cases. There needs to be more provision in this area to prevent unnecessary family separations.
    Women experiencing homelessness are often afraid of social service involvement and this leads them to miss appointments and even contact meetings. This is then held against them in the case. Women leaving prison from a short sentence who have no accommodation on release are often denied the opportunity to reunite with their children. The charity Re-unite does great work on this issue.
    The fact that there are only two rehabs in the country that will accommodate women together with their children also stands against them in court cases. While a woman is in rehab that is another 6 months where they are not having custody and often they are somewhere far from home and not able to keep up visits. Those who stay with their child in rehab are much more likely to keep custody.
    We have a staff member here who has been though all of this. She was homeless, using drugs and being sexually exploited and ended up in St Mungo’s South London Women’s Project. We run a drop in one day a week there and met her at the project.
    She says now that everyday when she looks at her son she can’t believe they are together and knows she was very lucky compared to other women. She was supported with her drug use at the hostel and through local agencies, and we supported her with her care proceedings. She managed to get into one of the two rehabs in the UK that will take mothers with their children based in Plymouth. Following that, the agency Re-unite got her housing with her child and she is now helping other women through Street Talk. Her dream is to set up an accommodation project for homeless women at risk of losing their children, to help them stay together.

  15. Emma Warren

    Attached is a report on a 6 month project conducted at Luther Street Medical Centre in Oxford which examined the reasons behind high unintended pregnancy rates amongst young women living in homelessness services, and considered reducing the health inequalities in access to contraception in this group of women.

  16. Tom Manning

    Covenant House Mother and Child Programs (Based in the USA)

    Being a good mother is one of the toughest jobs in the world, and it’s almost impossible when you are young, homeless, and without family. That is why our Mother/Child program was created to help these determined mothers and pregnant teenagers secure a brighter, more stable future for themselves and their babies.
    Covenant House counselors motivate each mother to work hard toward achieving independence. Our counselors are available to help them create a plan for their future by lending an ear and offering advice or sometimes by being a stern voice, if circumstance calls for it.
    Residents in the Mother/Child program attend workshops in parenting skills, child-bearing, and single parenthood, and we work to make sure the girls understand the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle – both for themselves and their children.
    Covenant House’s Mother/Child program also offers free on-site day care so that our mothers can complete their education or hold down a job. And our girls depend on one another as well, setting up schedules for shared baby-sitting. Living with other young mothers helps them bond, learn from each other, and gain a sense of family they probably have never experienced before.
    For more information see: http://www.covenanthouse.org/homeless-youth-programs/mother-child-teenage-pregnancy-help

  17. Family Lives

    Family Lives (formerly Parentline Plus) is a charity that supports parents, young people and families in England with all aspects of family life. They can be contacted via the helpline, as well as through email, Skype and live chat.

    Website: http://www.familylives.org.uk
    Freephone Helpline: 0808-800-2222 Monday – Sunday 7am – midnight.
    Email Support: [email protected]

  18. Joanna Nicholas

    Joanna Nicolas
    Child Protection Consultant and Trainer

    The Impact of Neglect

    Homelessness and Neglect

    It would be quite wrong to state that homelessness = neglect, just as it is wrong to state that poverty = neglect but just as there is a correlation between poverty and neglect, there is also a correlation between homelessness and neglect. Although Local Authorities have a duty to house children there will be families who do not have recourse to public funds, whose children may slip under the radar. In these families there may well be issues of neglect, as well as poverty. In addition to this there will be young people who have run away, who are homeless, whose needs are being neglected. These are the people who may be rough sleepers but there are also thousands of children living with their families in temporary accommodation. These families may be living in a single room, with no cooking facilities, no carpets, no beds and a shared bathroom. This paper is not about blame, or judgement. The purpose of it is to highlight to professionals the impact of living with neglect, regardless of what has led to the adults / children being in that situation.

    The History of Neglect

    Although children have been abused and neglected for centuries it is only in the last fifty years that abuse has been seen as a social problem and therefore something to which society needs to respond. The response to neglect has lagged behind, even though neglect is more prevalent than abuse and research has shown that neglect, as a form of maltreatment, is just as damaging as abuse.
    Society’s view remains that we view maltreatment that is intentional as worse than that which may not be, even though the impact on the child may be the same, or worse. If we are to be truly child-centred in our work we need to focus on the impact on the child, regardless of whether the cause of the maltreatment is by commission (abuse), or omission (neglect). The public’s interest remains in the shocking physical assaults and the number of horrific injuries a child sustains because that is tangible. The way that persistent neglect manifests itself results in a child who is a challenge, who may be hard to love. Emotional neglect leaves no physical marks. Where is the public interest in that?
    According to Erickson and Egeland “It was only in the late 1980’s that public awareness began to expand to include recognition of the often profound psychological consequences that stem from even the most subtle neglect.”
    Defining Neglect

    One of the difficulties is how to define neglect. The government guidance for England, Working together to safeguard children (HM Government, 2010), defines neglect as:
    \”…the persistent failure to meet a child\’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child\’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment); protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger; ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment. It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child\’s basic emotional needs.\”

    Within the academic field it is widely accepted that there are different types of neglect:-

    Physical neglect – this is the easiest to identify and respond to. Typically it will be a caregiver who does not adequately feed, clothe or shelter their child and whose actions result in a child being in physical harm or danger.

    Emotional neglect – this is much harder to define and to evidence. It happens in the home and the young child is unable to tell, as well as believing as they get older that what happens in their home is what happens in every home. Typically there will be a primary carer who is not emotionally available to their child, who is unable to pick up on what their child needs. Erickson and Egeland talk of a parent who is “psychologically unavailable”. There would be a different view in different cultures as to what constitutes emotional neglect. For example in most other cultures the Industrial Western view that an infant should sleep in a room alone would be anathema. (In one study of 186 cultures not one of the other cultural groups had a child under one sleeping in a room alone) .

    Educational Neglect – in the UK this would refer to a parent’s legal duty to ensure their child receives an education.

    Medical Neglect – A primary carer who fails to give their child prescribed medical treatment, including required medication, surgery or other type of required intervention in case of serious injury or illness.

    The Research

    Most of the earlier research looked at physical abuse. One of the earliest pieces of research which took neglect into consideration was by B.F.Steele in 1977 who concluded that neglected children were more likely to have “learning problems, low self-esteem and in subsequent years a high incidence of juvenile delinquency”. There is now a substantial body of research, with no conflicting research, that sets out clearly that the short-term and long-term consequences of suffering neglect are life-changing, in terms of a child’s physical, emotional, cognitive, social and educational functioning. In the words of the NSPCC “Neglect has adverse short- and long-term effects. In extreme cases, neglect kills”.
    There is now a considerable body of research that considers the impact of neglect to be as pernicious and life-affecting as other types of maltreatment. In the UK just under half of all children who are subject to child protection plans are under the category of neglect in spite of this. We would not leave an infant in a home where there was evidence of on-going physical or sexual abuse, so why is it acceptable when the category of maltreatment is neglect? The conclusion seems to be that because neglect is an act of omission and not commission, we react differently. Generally parents who neglect their children are dealing with their own issues of mental ill-health, domestic abuse, substance misuse, parental learning difficulties / disabilities. These are all issues that can lead to homelessness. Many of these issues are the manifestations of their own childhoods and all of these often run alongside poverty. From serious case review data the evidence seems to be that professionals feel compassion for the primary carer, who is neglecting their child but may very well be doing their best, usually in very difficult circumstances. Our attention is diverted away from the child and our focus in on the primary carer and how we can support them.
    But let us dispel the myth that neglect is not as damaging as other forms of maltreatment when all the research tells us differently. In the US there is a research project called “The Minnesota Parent-Child Project” which is being undertaken by Professor Byron Egeland et al. It is a longitudinal study that has followed a sample of 267 children since 1975, born to mothers identified as being at risk of parenting problems due to unstable life circumstances, youth, poverty, lack of support and low education. A major focus has been on the antecedents of abuse and neglect, as well as the long-term consequences of maltreatment on children’s development.
    The project has found that:-
    - At age one 2/3 of the neglected children had an anxious, or insecure attachment to their primary carer. (Highly dependent on but unable to be soothed by their primary carer).
    - At age 2 neglected children were easily frustrated, non-compliant and displayed considerable anger
    - At 3 ½ neglected children displayed poor impulse control, rigidity, a lack of creativity and more unhappiness than any of the other groups.
    - At 4 ½ neglected children displayed poor impulse control, extreme dependence on their teachers and general maladjustments in the classroom.
    As the children became older the neglected children were more socially withdrawn, unpopular with their peers and became more aggressive and less attentive as they grew up. They performed significantly lower than their peers academically. Only 5% of the children were not receiving some level of special education.
    At age 17 ½ 90% of the maltreated children received a diagnosis of mental illness. The highest rate was the “psychologically unavailable” group in which all but one child received a diagnosis of at least one psychiatric disorder and 73% were diagnosed with 2 disorders, or more.
    The researchers say “Maltreatment in the early years had devastating consequences for the children’s overall functioning in adolescence. In many ways our study shows the consequences of emotional neglect to be even more profound than physical neglect, or other types of maltreatment. At 4 ½ their nervous signs, self-abusive behaviour and other behaviours are all considered to be signs of psychopathology. Although the maltreatment they suffered was the most subtle of all the groups, the consequences for the children were the most striking”.
    When they became adolescent the children whose primary carer was psychologically unavailable scored highly in terms of delinquency, aggression and social problems and were more likely to attempt suicide than all the other groups.
    The findings from this research project are similar to the work of others in this field but to my mind this project shows clearly and starkly the impact of living with neglect.


    Having spent months researching this field and 20 years working in it, it is clear that our response to neglect should be no different to other forms of child maltreatment and yet it continues to be so. In terms of homelessness the Government has a responsibility to acknowledge the impact there is on the children of today and there will be on the parents of the future. Cuts in the short-term will only create more problems, and therefore greater costs, in the long-term

    Joanna Nicolas
    December, 2012

  19. Emma Scowcroft

    As long as it takes: a new politics for children

    As long as it takes: a new politics for children, which makes the case for more long-term policy making. Solving the complex problems facing the most deprived children requires a level of long-term commitment that can only be achieved by cross-party consensus and a willingness to take an agenda forward over a generation.

    Backing the future, was commissioned from the new economics foundation (nef). It identified both the financial savings and the benefits for individuals, families and communities that investing in early intervention would bring. It also showed that for every £1 invested in our services, Action for Children produced returns of between £4 and £10.


    1. backing_the_future.pdf
  20. Emma Scowcroft

    Effective relationships with vulnerable parents

    We know human relationships are core to the delivery of effective services, no matter how programmes and funding may change. We also know that developing effective professional relationships makes a real difference to outcomes for the most vulnerable and neglected children and young people. So we commissioned York Consulting to undertake research to articulate how we develop effective relationships with vulnerable parents, and exactly how these relationships make a difference for the children and young people we support. This is the concluding part of their research: the final study report.

  21. Emma Scowcroft

    Deprivation and risk: the case for early intervention

    This report is part of a series by Action for Children on the overriding importance of intervening as early as we can to support our most vulnerable children and their families. The deprivation these families experience is deeper and more complex than poverty alone, and the belief at the heart of this work is therefore that fiscal help alone will not stop their problems from being passed on through the generations.

    Deprivation and risk: the case for early intervention is about the direct impact of deprivation on the lives of children and their families. Usually when stories are told about families in these circumstances, their problems are reduced to a single cause: irresponsibility or victimhood, a negligent or indulgent State, cultural collapse, poverty or, on occasion, acts of evil. Yet the reality is never simple. The lives of individual children and families are shaped and steered by a complex interplay of policy initiatives, personal experience and local resources.

  22. Emma Scowcroft

    Intensive Family Support – the evidence

    This paper brings together the Action for Children evidence base on intensive family support services. It is made up of research commissioned by Action for Children, research Action for Children is featured in and internal evaluations

    Action for Children’s evidence base shows that intensive family support can
    • keep children out of care
    • prevent anti-social behaviour
    • provide a cost-effective solution to service provision, reducing need now and in the future

    Our evaluated intensive family support services have been shown to raise the self-esteem of vulnerable parents and help overcome neglect by tackling issues in the early stages of a problem. There is positive evidence of change through the provision of intensive support via family intervention programmes to turn around anti-social behaviour by young people and families, often where there is a risk of eviction and homelessness.

  23. Laura Smith

    St Mungo’s recently conducted an internal literature review on this subject. Some of the key sector research and findings:

    •St Mungo’s/ Revolving Doors (2009) Missing Families http://www.revolving-doors.org.uk/documents/missing families/
    Key findings:
    •Acknowledging and addressing the emotional issues relating to family can be critical to a woman’s recovery from homelessness.
    •Homelessness service staff working with women need to be trained in the complexities of family work and consider how integrate this work into support plans.
    •Homeless women often need assistance and support when dealing with Children’s Services departments.

    •Health Action for Homeless People (1999). Forgotten Mothers: Meeting the needs of homeless women who have lost their children. Hinton, T. And Gorton, S. HAHP: London http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/publications/Forgotten%20mothers.pdf
    Key findings:
    •There are commonalities between women whose children have been taken into care and homeless women: domestic violence, substance use and mental health problems often featuring in the lives of both groups.
    •In some cases, a mother’s homelessness can indirectly lead to local authority intervention in the care of her children, for example where the stresses of losing a home has led to or exacerbated mental health issues or substance dependence.
    •Conversely for some women the loss of their children may have a negative impact on their motivation to recover from problems in their lives such as drug or alcohol addiction, which eventually result in them becoming homeless.

    •Crisis (2000) Homeless Young Women and Pregnancy http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/publications/YoungWomenPregnancy.pdf
    Key findings:
    •Unplanned pregnancy among young homeless women is significantly more common than among the general population
    •Young homeless women often present specific challenges for homelessness organisations, health agencies, and pregnancy and family support organisations. There is a lack of developed policies for meeting the needs of this group.
    •Better links need to be established between homelessness services and agencies offering information and training about sexual health.

    •BBC (2012) ‘Preventing Pregnancy in Homeless Women’ Inside the Ethics Committee, BBC Radio 4, Thursday 2 August 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01l7wyv
    Key findings:
    •Having had multiple children taken into care, substance use crime and engagement in sex work are common and interrelated features in the lives of many homeless women.
    •Despite the risk of pregnancy and subsequent loss of further children, homeless women engaging in sex work are unlikely to consider contraception as a high priority due to chaotic lives and other more immediate considerations related to being homeless.
    •Homeless women may be reluctant to attend sexual health clinics due to prior bad experiences or fear of stigmatisation. More extensive sexual healthcare needs to be made available on site in accommodation for homeless women.

    •Centrepoint (2009) Family life: the significance of family to homeless young people http://www.centrepoint.org.uk/media/11651/long_version_final.pdf
    A research report on homeless young people’s understanding of the role of family and the breakdown and rebuilding of family relationships. Key recommendations:
    •Increase provision of high quality mediation and respite services for early intervention in relationship breakdown.
    •Increase support for young parents and refugees.

  24. OIWG

    Quotes from St Mungo’s Women’s Peer Research 2013:

    ‘I think they help women a lot with that. They help them find their rights and the best way of going about things, the best way to deal with social services who do have a very bad opinion of women who’ve been abused, they think they can’t be mothers’

    ‘Children are allowed here, if notice is given, forms filled out etc. If its my nephew visiting a staff member has to be present if his mother isn’t.’

    ‘[They’re allowed but] would be nice to have children in more private parts of the project.’

    ‘Rules on age of children visitors needs to be opened up.’

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