Breaking Down Barriers - By Hannah


I am a Family Engagement Worker in a women’s prison. I see many different, complicated family issues on a daily basis. I’m driven by hope, determination and compassion for some of the situations the women I work with find themselves in.

Recently I was working with a young woman who was serving a custodial sentence for the first time. She had a complicated background and had been the victim of domestic violence. As a result her young child was under the guardianship of her mother. When she was sent to prison she was three months pregnant with her second child. At the time, social services had decided that a parenting assessment needed to be undertaken to establish if the unborn child should remain in her care.

When the assessment meetings began it was clear that Mum was struggling. She was finding it difficult to engage with social services and was very distressed at the thought of speaking about her personal life and experiences in the past. Mum understood the importance of these meetings, and that if they didn’t go well, she could face losing care of her second child. When I started working with Mum, she felt comfortable with me and began to open up and talk about how she was feeling. She wanted to make changes and prove that she could care for her child but she didn’t know how to overcome the distress she felt when speaking with social services.

Working with Mum, I devised a booklet in order to show the social worker that Mum was prepared to work and engage with the local authority, and to show she would be capable of caring for her unborn child. In this booklet there were activities for Mum to complete. It covered areas such as child development, meeting the needs of a child, family tree, identifying networks of support and how best she can communicate with social services.

This booklet was a beacon of hope for Mum. By filling it out she was able to demonstrate that she was willing to engage, that she understood what it meant to be a parent and was keen to make positive steps towards a fresh start. This was incredibly empowering and gave her confidence in her abilities to parent. She felt for the first time someone was working with her, not against her, and giving her the support she needed to truly make a change and work towards a fresh start. After facilitating the engagement between Mum and social services over a number of weeks, a report came back in support of her being primary carer for her unborn child. Mum was proud to have shown herself capable and determined to continue taking the right steps for both herself and her unborn child.

Every day brings a different challenge, issue or problem, however we owe it to the women we work with to use initiative and advocate on their behalf to gain the best possible outcome. We press on – Together, In Hope.