“What’s your success rate?”
It’s a question many people ask. I asked it myself when I joined St Michael’s. How many families from our residential houses go home after their stay with us with their child?
And one answer is: between a third and two thirds. Some years it’s higher than others.
The other answer is: 100%. Because the measure of success is a child or children’s future safety and wellbeing. Our duty is always to the child.
We believe in the capacity of people to change and we’ve seen it many times – but change has to happen within the child’s timescale. And for some parents, that’s a truly daunting task.
The reason families are referred for a residential placement is that the risks to their children are considered too great to be assessed and the parents supported in the community. Those risks do not relate to one issue but combination of interrelated issues such as domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental ill health. And tor the great majority of parents referred to our residential service, their own experience of childhood was neglect, abuse, exploitation. When children are exposed to adverse and stressful experiences, Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs, it can have long-lasting impact on their ability to think, interact with others and on their learning, into adulthood and parenthood.
We all know how hard it is to change entrenched behaviours. It may take months or years and the typical residential placement is 12 weeks.
The positive side is that many parents are able to bring about change, working with staff. This includes families where previous children have been removed. Where this isn’t possible, we look to see if the child or children could be cared for in the extended family, in kinship care. Thirdly, we are piloting a new service Securing Change to support mothers whose child is removed, to try to help them avoid a cycle of repeat care proceedings, where child after child is removed, and to sustain positive change in their life.