The annual Blackpool Better Start conference on 13 October 2022 featured a powerful workshop on Blackpool’s contribution and response to the ‘Born into Care’ initiative to drive system change for parents and babies when the state intervenes to remove babies at birth.
Blackpool has had one of the highest rates in the country of babies being removed from their parents’ care at birth, owing to safeguarding concerns. In 2017 one child in every 46 births was born into care, compared with, say, the London borough of Richmond on Thames, where the figure was one child in 813 births.
This statistic, alongside the strong commitment in Blackpool, delivered through the Better Start Partnership, to transform the life chances of babies and empower parents and families, led Blackpool to play a leading role in a ‘Born Into Care’ initiative.
Nationally, ‘Born into Care’, a collaborative project led by Lancaster University, The Rees Centre at Oxford University and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has been understanding the scale and impact of babies being born into care, from the perspectives of parents as well as professionals, with the conclusion that national guidance is required to introduce more sensitive and humane practice when the state intervenes at birth. The complexities and sensitivities led the researchers to produce draft guidelines to be piloted with partner research sites in England and Wales.
Blackpool is one of the partner sites which contributed to the research and has been playing a leading role, through an innovative co-production approach, in responding to the draft guidance.
Two co-production groups were established in Blackpool – one for mothers and one for fathers – and each also involving professionals such as midwives, social workers and specialist service providers. The Blackpool For Baby’s Sake team were involved in both and were instrumental in particular to the success of the fathers’ co-production group, with most of the fathers in the group also being fathers who were participating in For Baby’s Sake.
All those involved were acutely aware of the sensitivities of bringing together parents with lived experience of their babies having been removed at birth and professionals such as social workers who represented those who had made the decisions about their baby’s removal.
Creative and trauma-informed approaches were used to build trust and understanding between the parents and professionals, to establish the principle that everyone around the table was equal and to demonstrate that success hinged on everyone feeling heard and valued. Before getting round the table, more informal social events were organised to build those relationships, even including a trip for the fathers and professionals in the fathers’ group to a local boxing club.
The story of this extraordinary co-production is best told by the parents and professionals who took part and they have made a film, Born into Care – Blackpool, which you can watch here
As one of the For Baby’s Sake Practitioners says in the film: ‘lived experience is one of the best resources you’ll ever get.’
The film identifies principles, based on learning constructively from the past and what needed to change and also based on best practice from services currently operating in Blackpool, including For Baby’s Sake.
The contributions from the For Baby’s Sake Blackpool team and parents who are engaging with For Baby’s Sakehighlight the importance of being trauma-informed and strengths-based. For Baby’s Sake is especially designed to meet the needs of parents with unresolved past trauma. When that unresolved trauma arises from the parents having been taken into care, or having had a baby previously removed, this can be especially triggering when those parents become parents again and prepare for the birth of their baby.
One mother reflects on her relationship with her For Baby’s Sake Practitioner: ‘she supported me and listened and was there from the get-go for who I was at that time and not who I used to be’.
Being trauma-informed is at the heart of Blackpool Better Start and this shared commitment is at the core of the strong partnership between The For Baby’s Sake Trust and our Blackpool Better Start partners. The essential requirement to be authentically trauma-informed is a key recommendation from Blackpool to all those with a role to play, locally and nationally, in implementing the guidance and driving system change to avoid and reduce the incidence and impact of babies being born into care.
As one of the For Baby’s Sake Practitioners says in the film
‘You can say you are a trauma-informed service but unless you offer a really authentic response to that trauma and you understand that underpinning all of the challenges, all of the difficult behaviours and the risks that you are concerned about, unless you understand that trauma is at the root of that, you aren’t going to get very far’.
The film is full of practical recommendations to support parents, starting in pregnancy, when they have previously had babies removed or are on a journey to their baby certainly or possibly being removed at birth. These include planning ahead, providing clarity, being inclusive to fathers and understanding and responding to the feelings of parents. As a member of the For Baby’s Sake Blackpool team says, ‘the answers have come from the lived experiences of the parent….we have to listen to their voice’.
To watch the Born into Care – Blackpool film, click here
To watch the workshop at the Blackpool Better Start conference, including the film plus presentations from Claire Mason, Research Fellow at Lancaster University and Pauline Wigglesworth, Co-produced Research and Transformation Lead at Blackpool Council, click here