Mollie was 19 years old and heavily pregnant at the time her case was referred to Daybreak. She was living in a seaside town in a hostel recommended by the local authority. This was on the seafront and provided accommodation for young homeless people, but it also accepted others with a range of problems. The behaviour of this group was causing Mollie distress. Other residents with drinking problems were going in and out of the hostel at all times and there had been fighting on the stairwell. Mollie felt threatened and at risk.
Mollie had been a bit of a wild child and left home as soon as possible, as she had a poor relationship with her mother. Her parents were divorced and, although she did have contact with her father, he didn’t live near her. She did not see him as often as she would have liked and she normally had to travel to his home, some distance away. She had a close relationship with her paternal grandmother, with whom she had stayed when she first left home. But Mollie’s behaviour was creating all sorts of problems. She was associating with the wrong people, and both she and they were involved with drugs. So she left and began sofa surfing in the town. In contrast, her sister had a good job, lived at home with her mother, and was perceived by the family as being very responsible. So there was some resentment between them.
The coordinator, Pauline, first contacted Mollie by phone. Pauline was confronted by a torrent of abuse, tears and pleas for help as her partner, the father of her unborn baby, was struggling with long-term mental health problems and threatening suicide because of their desperate situation.
The distress caused by her living environment and being very heavily pregnant was made even worse by her concern for her boyfriend. Dave had been homeless for a while and deteriorating by the day. He was living in a tent, but moving around the town to avoid contact with street drinkers and drug addicts with whom he used to acquaint. His mental health was deteriorating with the pressure of the situation and his desire to be there for his girlfriend, which he was finding difficult and frustrating.
Pauline judged that it wasn’t the time to have a discussion about an FGC as it was clear neither parent was in position to have a reasonably coherent conversation. She agreed to send the letter of introduction and information leaflet to Dave via a centre providing support to the homeless. She advised the social worker of the events of the initial contact.
On a Saturday a couple of days after the telephone conversation with Mollie, Pauline received a call from the future paternal grandfather of the baby. He lived in a town some distance away. Mollie had given him Pauline’s telephone number because she was very worried about Dave, his son, who was again threatening suicide. The coordinator asked if he would like her to contact social services and she gave him the number for the Mental Health Crisis Team, so they could try and locate his son and offer some help. Pauline called the social services out-of-hours number for a message to be relayed to the family social worker. The coordinator kept in touch with the parental grandfather during the day.
These initial contacts gradually enabled Pauline to build trust with the family, including both of Mollie’s and Dave’s parents and the wider family network. During the preparation period, Dave’s father rented a small house for the couple in the town where they lived. This gave the couple a stable home, which reduced the stress and anxiety for both of them. They quickly started to plan their future as a family, although Mollie still had to prepare herself to go into a mother and baby placement. The coordinator was able to visit them at the house, and build up the relationship needed for the FGC to go ahead. They relaxed with Pauline and became keen to have the FGC.
The FGC was a relaxed, positive experience for everyone, because of the relationship that had been established with the coordinator. It was attended by Mollie’s grandmother, the paternal grandfather of the baby, and his partner. There was much expression of gratitude for Pauline being prepared to respond to the cry for help when the baby’s paternal grandparents were at their lowest and most desperate.
Their plan focused on establishing regular contact between Mollie and the rest of the family, and visits. It included letting family members know when Dave had dips in his mental health. Family members committed to contacting social services if it was viewed that either had slipped back into drug or alcohol abuse or that the child was being neglected.
The stronger links between family members were successful and led to a reconciliation between them. Mollie and Dave now felt supported and cared for.
An FGC Review took place three months later, by which time the baby, Emma, had been born. Mollie had agreed to go into a mother and baby placement for three months but living as a family. She was attending support group sessions because of previous drug taking. They also were participating in a parenting programme and Dave was attending support sessions focusing on his mental health. All this had proved very beneficial. The couple had settled down into family life, and Emma was being well cared for and loved.
Pauline lives in the same town as Mollie and Dave. When they see her they always stop and chat and share the latest in their progression as a family. Dave is now working, and no longer claiming benefits. They are beginning to make positive plans for the life of their family together. On one occasion, Pauline met Mollie and a friend on a bus. Mollie introduced the coordinator to her friend, who was involved with social services in London.
Family group conferencing can enable a young family in crisis to come together with their extended family and make plans for a child about to be born, who might otherwise have entered the care system through court processes. The child was at risk of being removed via the court process if Mollie could not maintain a drug-free lifestyle. This lifestyle might well have involved offending behaviour to support it, which was halted for both parents by the FGC.