We spoke to Dr. Jadwiga Leigh about New Beginnings Greater Manchester (NBGM), an innovative parenting programme she leads in Stockport in the North-West of England.
NBGM works with parents who have experienced trauma and whose children have cases open to children’s services due to concerns about neglect or abuse. Most families have children in their care on child protection plans, formal pre-proceedings or under care orders.
NBGM is nearing the end of its first year pilot, which was funded by The University of Sheffield Public Engagement Fund and The Big Lottery. It is delivered in partnership with Stockport Family, the integrated children’s service run by the Stockport Children’s Trust, who provide a seconded social worker, premises and a crèche for group work.
From Tree Stumps to Fresh Growth
NBGM is based on the practice of the Flemish organisation ‘Stobbe’, which means the stump of a tree and signifies a ‘new beginning’ for families. Leigh was inspired to replicate the model after conducting comparative studies of family services in Flanders, Belgium and England, in which she discovered how Flemish residential centres provide better outcomes for children and parents than their UK equivalents.
Stobbe works with families holistically, addressing the needs of parents so that they can meet the needs of their child. It starts from the recognition that parents who are known to children’s services are likely to have suffered significant trauma themselves, so a therapeutically intensive approach is integral.
“A room full of women who love their children”
Leigh describes how when you enter a parenting class you are faced “a room full of women who all love their children but are struggling to parent their children”. NBGM is designed to harness this love, and provide opportunities for parents to learn from each other.
Its key difference from standard parenting programmes is its extent and intensity. The course is divided into two stages, the first of 20 weeks and the second of 4 weeks. In the stage, parents are expected to attend 70% of appointments, which are five days a week, and include 1-2-1 counselling, therapeutic group work, self-care sessions, art therapy, workshops on practical skills, and during the school holidays, family outings.
NBGM works from the understanding that removing children from a family is not the solution to risks which are premised on class, poverty or drug and alcohol dependency. They provide representation to mothers in statutory meetings, but also seek to help them learn how to articulate why they don’t agree with their children’s social workers. Leigh explains that supporting parents to advocate for themselves is not a sign that NBGM is ignoring identified concerns. Rather, the service is exploring how when parents feel empowered and able to dissent, they are able to meaningfully engage in the child protection process. Where they might previously have got angry and walked out of a Child Protection Conference, having the skills to articulate the situation from their perspective allows them to stay in the room, to listen and be heard. In the long run, parents begin to let down their barriers, allowing relationships to form in which there is enough trust for parents to feel safe to critically reflect on their parenting.
Researchers at the University of Sheffield undertook a mid-point evaluation of the pilot project, which indicated that professionals involved with the families participating in the programme reported ‘amazing’ and ‘commendable’ progress .For all families involved, children’s social care involvement has stepped down or closed by the end of the programme. Qualitative evidence across the cohort shows parents showing an increased understanding of risk and safety, understanding the impact of past abusive relationships and how parenting practice effects safety, among other areas of focus. However, as only four families participated fully in the first cohort of the programme it is difficult to draw any statistical conclusions.
The Financial Impact
As specified in the mid-point evaluation, accountants at Stockport Council are clear that the NBGM programme makes financial savings for the local authority by preventing children entering care and reducing the need for social care involvement. While a full cost-benefit analysis will be conducted at the end of the pilot, is estimated that the savings made by Stockport council, if they had fully funded this phase of the project, would be approximately £219,000 .
The Local Authority predicts that the number is likely to be greater, as it is necessary to predict savings across public services and by estimating the impact of the wider soft outcomes of the programme, for example, two of the mothers involved are now in Higher Education or employment.
‘I hope one day parents are running it’
In the last four weeks of the programme, parents have the opportunity to train as accredited peer mentors through Stockport Mosaic, the local drug and alcohol agency who run a successful mentoring programme. If parents don’t want to be mentors, but do want to stay involved, there are other volunteering options available or ways to keep in touch.
Leigh tells me that the parents who have trained to be peer mentors are going to help her to design the next set of sessions. They have also been part of the production of a training package for universities and local authorities.
“I hope one day they are running it”, she admits, “As I am a bridge between parents and social care professionals, parents who have been through it are a bridge between me and parents fresh to the process”.
If you have any questions or would like to find out more about NBGM, please contact Jadwiga on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This case study was written by Albinia Stanley in 2019.