Home-Start Sutton provide volunteer support to families with young children who are experiencing a challenging time. They support parents as they learn to cope, improve their confidence and build better lives for their children.
Parents face few more distressing thoughts than the possibility of their child being taken away. In Initial Child Protection Conferences (ICPCs), multi-agency forums which assess a child’s care needs, bureaucratic processes and the language of officialdom can sometimes alienate and intimidate parents already fearful that their child might be taken into care.
Heightened emotions can stoke heated exchanges. Communication falters. On both sides, perceptions develop in ways that may risk decisions being made which are unhelpful.
Launched in October 2014, the Sutton Parent2Parent Advocacy Service (P2PAS) facilitates a better prepared and more constructive interaction between parents and statutory services during Child Protection Conferences.
The Sutton P2PAS trains independent peer advocates to provide support for the most vulnerable parents attending an ICPC. That support can make all the difference. Recipients often face mental health issues, have learning disabilities, are isolated and are sometimes victims of domestic violence.
Advocates are parents who have gone through the child protection process themselves. Meeting with parents before the conference, advocates talk through any questions they have, offer advice on how to manage the meetings and to be by their side in the ICPC.
A follow up session provides an opportunity for reflection and a chance to answer further questions. Advocates also draw on their experience advising services to make sure information sources are relevant, written clearly, and jargon free.
P2PAS offered support to 66 families between 2014 and 15. The project is continuing, training new advocates and hopeful of securing funding to expand and offer support to more parents involved in professional meetings.
Following advocacy support, an independent survey found parents calmer and more engaged in the ICPC. Social workers and conference chairs are now referring parents directly to P2PAS. Through helping others, the lives of advocates are being transformed, turning a difficult experience for themselves into a chance to make a difference and benefit others.
In one example a mother of four, with no family in this country, a victim of domestic abuse, isolated and emotionally vulnerable, reported that having someone to listen to her worries, going with her to the CPC made her feel that she was no longer alone in trying to do the best for her children.
That’s something everyone must support.