In this issue we speak with Mags* – a young parents’ advocates at Just for Kids Law**. Mags has a range of experiences of working with young people in different settings and feels passionate about the social inclusion of young parents.
*The original interview was conducted with two advocates, one of whom has since left the role. **In August 2023, some of the advocacy support offered by Just for Kids Law was transferred to Coram - you can learn more here.
As an advocate specialising in supporting young parents, what have you learned about the needs of this group of young people?
The needs of this group are varied and wide-ranging. They differ greatly depending on what gender the parent is. There is a great deal of pressure and scrutiny on young mothers to meet the care needs of their children, and conversely hardly any support, expectation, or inclusion of young fathers in the process. The young parents we see are often care-experienced and many have mental health needs. Many have experienced systemic and interpersonal violence, exclusion, economic disadvantage, housing instability, and a lack of opportunity to work and learn.
Dependable, consistent, longer-term support built on trust is vital when supporting young parents. This can include regular calls with the advocate, therapeutic support and opportunities in their life which are just for them. Robust legal support, including access to free, independent legal advice and representation or exceptional case funding for young fathers not eligible for legal aid, is also fundamentally important.
For care experienced young parents, support from a personal advisor (PA) or a support worker until at least age 25 is also key. Young people tell us that the most valuable thing to them is having someone consistent and trustworthy to navigate the process alongside them.
In your experience, what are the most common rights breaches affecting young parents?
The most common rights breaches we see are: inability to see and spend time with their children (this is especially the case for young fathers); having their wishes and feelings disregarded; and not having accessible information about their rights and the children’s social care system. Many young parents find social services intervention invasive and in contravention of their right to private and family life. Many do not receive the leaving care support they are entitled to, which can lead to, for instance, problems with housing. Their right to participate in society is often complicated by the lack of childcare and flexibility in workplaces. Lack of recognition of the unique needs of specific groups, such as neurodiverse young people, gives rise to further exclusion.
We often hear from advocates that care experienced young parents find the pre-birth assessment process very difficult, unfair and intrusive. Is there any learning you can share about how advocates can help in this specific context?
Young mothers who are care experienced are often routinely expected to go through a pre-birth assessment on the basis that they have not themselves received ‘adequate parenting’ so they cannot be expected to be adequate parents themselves. They find this very unfair and some term it ‘abusive’ as they feel their corporate parent has let them down and is now punishing them for it. They feel they are not being given an opportunity to parent before their parenting ability is being doubted.
Young mothers also tell us they are often not clear on what is expected of them, and, at the same time, their progress, achievements and ‘doing well’ are not recognised. Suddenly a host of professionals are involved in intimate moments of pregnancy and birth. Advocates can support young parents by asking for clarity and good communication from children’s social care so that the young person feels informed and able to participate.
What is this assessment for? Is it justified? What does the young person need to do to show their ability to parent safely? What support can be offered early? If it is a young parent’s first child, this is a unique opportunity to put support in place early to enable them to stay together with their child.
If you could give only one tip to fellow advocates to help them provide the best possible help to young parents, what would it be?
Young parents’ advocacy is a bit like walking a tight rope and juggling simultaneously.
We are supporting somebody through some of the most difficult moments of their lives and receiving a huge amount of intimate information about them from the get-go.
We must encourage them, inform them of their rights, help them manage their fears, and link them in with other young parents to strengthen their support network. We are often the only person speaking up for a young parent in children’s social care settings, because everybody else is focused on the child.
In essence: listening – empowering – encouraging – never giving up!
A huge thank you to Mags for speaking with us!