Looking Forward: a vital service led by Oasis Project for vulnerable women in Brighton & Hove who have had a child/ren removed from their care

Fulfilling Lives releases a report evaluating the impact of Brighton & Hove’s Looking Forward service. Looking Forward is a service for women who have had a child or children permanently removed from their care and is delivered by women’s drug and alcohol service, Oasis Project.

Why do women who have had children removed from their care need a dedicated service?

In 2021, the initial stages of the Children’s Care Review, Nuffield Justice report and Hidden Harm research highlighted the needs and impact of care experienced children, and how adverse childhood experiences do not end once a child is no longer in the care of their birth family. We must do more to consider what happens after care proceedings have ended for the child, and for their birth parents.

Women who have had child/ren removed from their care due to safeguarding concerns often have multiple and compound needs including experience of abuse and neglect as children (50% of women in Looking Forward are care leavers), and domestic and sexual abuse as adults, exploitation and involvement with the Criminal Justice System, poor mental health, substance misuse and issues with housing. Falling into a gap between adult and children’s social care, these women face significant adversity and trauma, which has an impact on themselves, on society, and on their children. Local data highlights children being removed from their care as a common theme amongst several recent deaths amongst women in the City, including deaths by suicide and substance misuse overdose.

Women who have had children removed from their care are 36% more likely to die prematurely than other women of the same age.

Pause, 2017

Parents whose children are removed from their care are forced to face the pain of separation from their child alongside the existing challenges which led to care proceedings. Once children are removed from the care of mothers, women suffer renewed grief, isolation, stigma and loss that is long lasting, acute and often overlooked by existing service provision. Self-harm and suicidal ideation is commonplace and often leads women to increased substance misuse and a vulnerability to unhealthy relationships The impact of this trauma often leads to rapid repeat pregnancies as a complex response to or result of loss.

1 in 4 women who have had a child removed will go on to have further child/ren enter care proceedings.

Broadhurst 2017

What is the Looking Forward approach?

Looking Forward adopts a trauma-informed approach to establish trusted relationships with women to provide flexible practical and emotional support tailored to their individual needs. The service is delivered via a combination of assertive outreach, intensive 1-1 support, multi-agency meetings and professional consultancy for up to two years to allow women space to address grief, loss and make positive changes in recognition that meaningful change takes time.

Looking Forward is unique to similar support provision through its adoption of principles of re-productive justice and the importance of allowing women to exercise their choice and control. Access to contraception is an important component of the work the Looking Forward service undertakes; Looking Forward sees contraception as part of a wider conversation with women about friends, family and intimate relationships, alongside clinical intervention, but usage of contraception is not conditional to accessing the service.  

Looking Forward also includes parenting support within its offer to women if required, as it is inclusive to women who may have other child/ren still in their care or who may go through further pregnancy whilst accessing the service. Some women may have an ongoing role in child/ren’s lives following separation and others may experience reunification with other child/ren previously removed whilst receiving support from Looking Forward. The offer of parenting support enables a restorative approach and aims to prevent harm to children, reducing family trauma and the number of children entering the care system. 

How does Looking Forward help?

Between April 2020 – March 2021 Looking Forward worked intensively with 18 women, who had 55 children between them. Mothers want, can and do take part in their children’s lives after separation, but specialist support is needed to help them negotiate child contact arrangements and parent safely. 100% of women in the Looking Forward service had contact with at least 1 of their children.

Women accessing Looking Forward experience unsafe housing due to systemic issues and are at risk of violent crime and drug-related harms. These factors also have an impact on community safety. Looking Forward aims to enhance safety of women and community by bridging a gap between women and other services such as housing and police. We work closely with clients to stabilise or improve their housing outcomes or sustain temporary housing accommodation. 94% of Looking Forward clients in temporary accommodation are sustaining their tenancy with support.

Looking Forward is well placed to support co-existing conditions (mental health and drug & alcohol use) but many of the needs of these women are not being met by mental health services. Of those women in Looking Forward with a drug/alcohol problem, 97% have been supported to access treatment services with 15% reporting an improvement in drug and alcohol use .

Women in this cohort are often described as ‘complex’ or ‘hard to engage’. Flexible and unconditional support is a valuable part of the service, and the assertive outreach model supports increased engagement amongst this cohort. Looking Forward works towards stabilisation with women to increase resilience and wellbeing and ensure access to the resources and wider community to achieve positive, sustainable changes. This in turn reduces strain on services across the City, including the Police, Children’s Services, Housing and Healthcare providers. 

Women on the Looking Forward programme have had an average of 3 children removed each and are at risk of this happening again. Looking Forward improves social networks & relationships and the majority of women in Looking Forward start to move to regular and long-term contraception use after 6 months. Using a 17% likelihood of women experiencing a subsequent removal, and the mean annual cost of a child in care at £57,102 (Pause 2017), Looking Forward offers an approximate saving of £339,756 to Children’s Services per year.

“If I did not have LF in my life, I would crack, I wouldn’t be here. Having someone keep checking on me, without giving up, reminding me that someone cares and I am not on my own. It helps me strive to rise, and rise again as many times as I need to.”

Looking Forward Client

What is the future of Looking Forward?

From 2013, Looking Forward was delivered in partnership through Oasis Project and Brighton and Hove City Council until 2020 when changes within BHCC Children’s Services led to a decision that the project did not have a good fit with new structures. Oasis Project continued delivery of the service with funding from Fulfilling Lives to sustain the service for a further year whilst a longer-term option is found.

Oasis Project is well placed to meet the needs of this cohort through a robust 22 year track record of delivering effective services for women, strong working relationships with Children’s Social Services and a skilled, experienced staff team including staff with clinical skills, qualified therapists and social workers. We also employ staff with lived experience of substance misuse, domestic abuse, and involvement with Children’s Services. 

This report confirms how vital the Looking Forward service is to Brighton and Hove and its ongoing sustainability is a necessity for women, children and families affected by childhood adversity, family separation, domestic abuse, crime, mental health and substance misuse.

Click here to read the full Fulfilling Lives report: Hope and Complexity

If you would like to know more about Looking Forward or Oasis Project please visit website or contact us directly via email on [email protected]

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