Fresh Start offers support to mothers who have had one or more of their children removed through family court proceedings.

We spoke to Natalie Williams, Team Leader at Fresh Start.


Fresh Start began in 2018 to work with women who have recently had children removed from their care by local authorities. The service is funded by Sheffield County Council through Children's Social Care and delivered by Project 6. They encourage women to take a pause from being a mother and supports them to move forward in life. 

Fresh Start take into consideration that while women aren't currently parenting, they are still mothers who need support to address and process the loss of their child. The team is currently made up of two practitioners who support 13 women on a yearly basis. Fresh Start is part of a wider organisation called Project 6, formally Sheffield Alcohol Support Service, set up to support those living with addiction in Sheffield, Doncaster and Bradford. 


Fresh start puts women at its centre to help them to make the changes they want to see in life. They provide practical support in several different ways. This includes liaising with social workers to help mothers arrange their child contact appointments or letterbox contact. Mothers have the opportunity to attend peer support groups where those who are ready to share their experiences can do so in a supportive environment. Service users have described this aspect as particularly useful as it avoids the judgement women feel they receive when they explain their situation. Within the group setting there are various activities offered including mental health support, advice on managing their emotions and helping women express these emotions in a non-destructive way. The team helps the women access further support from other agencies including drug and alcohol services, education and employment services. There is also a signposting service for GPs and dentists as well as sexual health clinics to support access to contraception. 

Once a child has been removed from their care, mothers will often experience issues with housing as she is then taxed on spare bedrooms, leaving her in a home she can’t afford and mounting debt. The team works with the housing department to help mothers secure appropriate accommodation to avoid spiralling into debt.  Fresh Start staff support women with their court orders. They establish whether the mother has been offered contact and ensure, if the mother is willing and ready, that they can be present in their children's lives. Special Guardianship Orders (SGO’s) nominate a person to take over parental responsibility as the child's special guardian. These cases can be particularly upsetting for the mother who has no say in the child's life. Fresh Start will advocate for SGO’s to include the birth mother where they can, to make sure she is included. 

Another area of focus is on positive relationships. Sessions with practitioners aim to address the mother’s distrust of professionals. The service works collaboratively with women to address issues they face in life and encourages them to take a look at their relationships and build a supportive network. Fresh Start provides a range of support to give women the opportunity to set up a more secure future. Losing a child through care proceedings is a turbulent and traumatic time and women often fall into a cycle of subsequent pregnancies with subsequent removals. A service exclusively for mothers to address their grief of losing their child as well as their other issues leading to that removal, provides an opportunity to rebuild their lives. 

Eligibility and Referrals

Fresh Start works with women who have had a child removed in the last 24 months, who have no children currently in their care and are not currently pregnant. They must also consent to being referred. Two years is to allow the mother to reach a point where she wants to change once she has initially processed the shock of losing a child and is able, with encouragement, to trust social services better. The service is not statutory and therefore participation is voluntary, allowing a mother to feel ready before receiving support. Women are supported for, on average, between 9 and 12 months 


Fresh Start is currently being evaluated by Sheffield Hallam University, which is due to be completed in October 2024. Fresh Start hopes this will provide evidence for the value of their work and their impact on society. She also hopes to see the service grow and employ more practitioners to support more women. 

For more information about Fresh Start, please contact

Case-study by Leontine Gnaly, 2023

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