By Jules Hillier, Chief Executive of Pause
Although the very first Pause Practice (in Hackney) was set up ten years ago, we began learning and reflecting long before that. This was thanks to the work of our co-founder, Sophie Humphreys, who spent months and years thinking about what needed to change before actually setting up the first practice. So learning, reflecting, recognising when we might not have got it right, changing, and learning again is in our DNA. It’s part of what makes Pause, well, Pause. It is part of what gives us the confidence to share what we’ve learnt over the years with others doing this important, undervalued and powerful work.
This week we’ve held the first of a series of events that bring together our learning from across our (currently 23) Pause Practices over the last ten years. During that time, 1,400 women have completed the Pause Programme, who previously had more than 4,200 children removed from their care. We have a duty to learn from them and from the brilliant practitioners who work with them and to share these learnings with other services, to inform changes to practice, policy and systems that will make things better for families.
We, along with others working in this field, have learnt so much about what works. We know that a trauma-informed model that puts the woman, as well as her relationship with a practitioner, at the very heart of the work can achieve transformative change. We know it requires carefully chosen, skilled professionals, to do the work and that they need sufficient experience, time, space, autonomy and support to get it right. We know that when they are able to get it right, the change can be extraordinary. This is all backed up by a robust independent evidence base, which shows that Pause works.
It is important to recognise too that sometimes life remains difficult for women, even after completing the programme. That’s okay – we know this happens and doesn’t mean the work or the relationship hasn’t made a difference.
As a result of our work and the work of so many others, we have created real change not only for women but also for the way that many other services respond to women who have had children removed. Despite this, and despite everything we have learnt, all the learnings we have shared and all the real changes we can see and evidence, there is still much to do if we are going to make repeat removals a thing of the past. So, this week, we’ve launched a policy paper that outlines three big asks; three things that we think will contribute to escalating the change we’d like to see in the world.
Let’s start with the data. I’ve been at pause for seven years and it never fails to make me angry when I hear that local authorities still don’t count the number of families that experience repeat removals. All that trauma, pain and fear for a family and nobody actually counts it. That has to change. The first rule of making things better surely has to be that: to acknowledge and understand the size of the challenge you are facing. So, we would like to see data on families who lose more than one child to the care system collected nationally.
Then, let’s think about what family means when it comes to making policy and services designed to keep children safe and improve the life chances of them and their families. 93% of women who are on the Pause Programme have some form of contact with their children; they are part of their children’s lives, part of their family. If policymakers or service providers or funders or practitioners draw their definition of ‘family’ in such a narrow way that excludes parents who do not have children in their care at that time, then so much of the context and experience of the family is lost and the impact of any support will be limited. So, include birth parents when you think about what a family is.
And finally, let’s step in to do something every single time a child is taken into care. It’s one of the most difficult, traumatic and damaging interventions that the state can make and even when it’s completely necessary to safeguard the child, we must do all we can to put in the support for the parents to make sure they are able to process the experience, heal from it and make changes in their lives. There’s that quote of Einstein’s that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is what happens when we don’t support a woman after a removal. We expect her to change, without help, and we intervene in the same way with the same results when she isn’t able to. This feels like an unhealthy and ultimately fruitless approach to a problem.
So, count these women, include them when you define family and make sure they have good quality support if they lose a child. Those are the three things we’re asking for as a result of what we’ve learnt over the last ten years of working together with so many others in the sector.