We spoke to Christian Iszchak, Regional manager of Mpower to understand how the service helps families in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire.
In 2012, first of its kind research was published by Karen Broadhurst surrounding recurrent care proceedings for mothers who were care experienced themselves. It found that mothers who were care experienced were overrepresented when it came to having multiple children removed. Around the same time in Suffolk, judges were raising concerns over seeing the same mothers having children removed as a result of the same issues. Ormiston Families, then a well-known children's charity in Suffolk, was tasked with developing a support service for mothers who have had children removed from their care. This led to the creation of Mpower. Mpower started in Ipswich before expanding up and around Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth, Norwich, Kings Lynn and into Cambridgeshire.
About the service
Mpower is a relationship-based service. The team recognises how the trauma a person experiences in childhood can manifest itself in risk-taking behaviors and unhealthy relationships. Therefore, they spend a long time getting to know the service user and earning their trust. They aim to meet mothers where they are and only become involved when she is ready for them to. Appointments take place in their homes as this is somewhere safe, comfortable and familiar for the mother. All decisions within the team are made on a case-by-case basis. There is no 3-strike policy, so the circumstances in which an Mpower case is closed will look very different from person to person.
Prior to 2019, Mpower only became involved with a family once the child had been removed from their parents. After 2019, there was a shift, and the service was opened up to allow the team to get involved at any point a parent is in need. In April 2023, Mpower started a contract with Norfolk County Council to deliver the service across the whole of Norfolk. This is jointly funded by the Public Health England and Children's Services.
How Mpower helps
The first area of support is practical. The team helps mothers or couples to secure housing, clear debt and complete the forms necessary to access benefits. There is also assistance in navigating children's services or helping a parent to make contact arrangements. This helps to put the parent in a more stable position, giving them a chance to rebuild their lives.
At the beginning of the process, if the mother encounters a crisis, the practitioner is able to make sensible suggestions on the mother's behalf. Over time, with the help of reliable, consistent engagement with the practitioner, the mother is able to cope better in situations of crisis and make these decisions for herself. It is at this point that Mpower carefully removes itself to allow the parent to stand on their own feet and be independent.
The team provides information to improve sexual and reproductive health, encouraging mothers to take a pause in pregnancy, as well as providing support to understand and process the reasons as to why their child was removed from them. Practitioners have experience of working with adults or young people with complex needs, usually coming from a background in mental health or care services. Everyone at Mpower is trained in trauma, addiction, mental health and care proceedings, however each member of the team has a service specialism that they are able to consult or lead workshops on.
Referrals and Eligibility
50-60% of referrals come through children's services meaning parents are often at the point of going through or have recently gone through care proceedings. Once a child has been removed, the social worker has reduced involvement with parents, so this is one-point Mpower can step in to work with people at their highest risk of a subsequent pregnancy and removal. Other referrals come through GP’s, sexual health clinics, midwifery services, perinatal mental health services as well as mothers self-referring. Sometimes parents reach a point where they need to reflect and consolidate on everything they've learned. Because of this, service users are also able to self-refer back into the service if they need further support, Mpower aims to give them the same practitioner, so they are able to pick up where they left off.
Mpower Norfolk is open to birth mothers aged 18+ who have experienced the removal of a child through care proceedings in the last 3 years and where the child is aged 3 or under. They must not have any children in their care permanently, but Mpower Norfolk will work with women who are currently pregnant. In situations where it is appropriate, they will also work with birth fathers or the birth mother’s partner. In Ipswich, Lowestoft, Fenland and Peterborough, Mpower is open to any birth mothers who has had one or more children removed from their care—regardless of how old the child was at point of removal or how long ago the removal happened—and who are at a high risk of future children being removed.
Evaluation and Future
Mpower was evaluated in 2015 by the University of Essex. It was evaluated in tandem with Suffolk County Councils ‘Positive Choices’ programme. The evaluation made a number of recommendations around working hours, caseload numbers and support and training for frontline staff, which the team subsequently incorporated into their model.
Christian is hoping Mpower can expand the service in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, as they have done in Norfolk. This is likely to require a re-scoping of the eligibility criteria in these areas. Currently, birth fathers are not eligible for support if they are no longer in a relationship with the birth mother. Research conducted by the University of East Anglia highlights that birth fathers are “counted out” in this arena. In future, Mpower is hoping to offer an equal service to birth fathers.
To learn more about Mpower, please contact Christian at Christian.Iszchak@ormistonfamilies.org.uk
Case study by Leontine Gnaly, 2023