Safeguarding babies during the Covid-19 crisis - in social work, family and criminal justice
July 2020 - December 2020
The project is being coordinated by Lancaster University, supported through ESRC Impact Acceleration Account funding.
This new project has been established by a group of collaborating organisations with a shared concern about the unintended but potentially negative longer-term consequences of the current Covid-19 crisis on infants and their parents involved with social work services. Over the coming weeks we will publish a series of accessible outputs that capture lived experiences, caring strategies and solidarity initiatives of people during the COVID-19 pandemic both during lockdown and as we adjust to socially distanced practice.
Intervening in family life to protect an unborn or newly born baby is difficult and highly contentious at the best of times. In the context of the current public health crisis, working alongside families to ensure practice is humane, effective and delivers the best possible outcomes in the longer-term, is even more challenging. Yet the negative consequences for the child and the family of not doing so can last their lifetime.
The initial phase of lockdown radically altered the possibilities for best practice and profoundly re-shaped family experience. Social work practice and family court hearings largely moved online or via the phone. Financial hardship and other stresses increased for families, whilst many statutory and community support services for parents to be, or new parents, that may have mitigated risks or provided reassurance to social workers, were scaled back or temporarily closed. In many local authorities, family members found that face-to-face time with children who they were not able to live with, was replaced with digital family time. Regarding new-born babies, such adaptations were particularly consequential, video-calls or photographs can never replace the physical connection that is needed between parent and new born baby. For women in prison who were pregnant or sentenced during the initial phase of lockdown –multiple challenges stood in the way of any contact with their babies and young children.
As lockdown is eased and socially distanced approaches to practice emerge, it is imperative that we share knowledge, capture experience and promote critical reflection among professionals, policy colleagues and family members alike
Who are we?
We are a group of collaborating organisations with a shared concern about the unintended but potentially negative longer-term consequences of the current crisis on infants and their parents involved with social work services, as well as in the family and criminal justice systems. We are a group of organisations also close to practice innovation, which equally needs sharing.
What will we do?
Over the coming weeks we will publish a series of accessible outputs that speak to the concerns set out above. We aim to capture lived experiences, caring strategies and solidarity initiatives of people during the COVID-19 pandemic both during lockdown and as we adjust to socially distanced practice.
For more details see our project information sheet (here).
Contributions and Resources
* "Covid-19 is robbing children taken into care of a chance to properly say goodbye to their families" - read Angela's story in The Guardian.
* "Never mine" - Angela has also recorded this poem ("A birth mother's story") reflecting about how it feels to be pregnant when you know the Local Authority will take your baby away.
* Read about Local Authorities response to parent-child contact during the pandemic here.
* "When they took my sons for adoption I got to hold them - now mums say goodbye on a screen" - read Angela's Sunday Express article here.
* Read the important findings from new Covid-19 study in New York published in Lancet. "Our data suggest that perinatal transmission of COVID-19 is unlikely to occur if correct hygiene precautions are undertaken, and that allowing neonates to room in with their mothers and direct breastfeeding are safe procedures when paired with effective parental education of infant protective strategies."
* "Alone and Waiting" - Read about the experiences of pregnant and mothers of newborns in prison during the pandemic.
* "Why mothers at risk of separation or separated from their babies need access to specialist care" - read a new blog post by Kirsty Kitchen, Birth Companions, here.
* Listen to Helen Lincoln DCS at Essex County Council, discuss how they managed to continue parent-baby contact throughout the pandemic
Professor Karen Broadhurst: Centre for Child and Family Justice Research
Claire Mason: Centre for Child and Family Justice Research
Cathy Ashley: Family Rights Group (link)
Angela Frazer-Wicks: Family Rights Group (link)
Susannah Bowyer: Research in Practice (link)
Kirsty Kitchen: Birth Companions (link)
Bev Barnett Jones: Independent consultant
Mary Ryan: Independent consultant
Dr Sheena Webb: Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust
Birth Companions’ response to the MBRRACE 2020 report on maternal deaths
The latest MBRRACE reports on maternal mortality rates and rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths during 2016-18 show significant and growing inequalities in outcomes stemming from deprivation and disadvantage:
- Babies born in the most deprived areas are at an 80% higher risk of stillbirth and neonatal death compared to those living in the least deprived areas.
- Women living in these areas are almost three times more likely to die themselves. As the level of deprivation increases, the risk of dying in pregnancy, birth or the year after birth increases. 37% of the women who died lived in areas ranked at the very highest index of multiple deprivation, compared to 7% in the least deprived area.
- One in five (20%) of the women who died were known to social services – an increase from 12% in 2012-14. As the report states, “Involvement with social services is an indicator of the otherwise largely invisible levels of need and adversity experienced by many of the women who die”.
- These inequalities are widening. The number of women who are known to be experiencing multiple disadvantages when they die has increased by a third since the last report, from 6% to 8%.
These stark figures are rooted in the wider determinants of health including poverty, insecure and inappropriate housing, mental ill-health, domestic and sexual abuse, trauma and experiences of racism. While this data relates to deaths before the outbreak of COVID-19, it is clear that the pandemic is intensifying these issues and escalating levels of need across the country.
The tragic deaths of these women and babies are the tip of the iceberg. Behind the figures lie untold numbers of near misses and serious incidents, risking the lives and the long-term physical and mental wellbeing of women and their babies, and perpetuating cycles of trauma and disadvantage that have a lasting impact on families and wider society.
Click here to read Birth Companions' response.
For further information please contact Professor Karen Broadhurst (firstname.lastname@example.org)