Together members: Aberlour and National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS)
Parents and carers play a crucial role in helping children and young people access their rights. Their ability to do this depends on the support and resources available to them. Under Article 18, governments have a responsibility to support parents and carers in this role. This support could include health visits, income support, free childcare and access to information on parenting.
“Children are very aware of the worry and stress that a parent might experience. They worry too. Children want their parents and carers to get help when they really need it.”
This case study looks at Alice’s experience. Alice was in a car accident as a child and has a permanent brain injury which makes it difficult for her to remember things. She and her daughter, Robynn, received help from Aberlour Family Service South Ayrshire in 2016.
“I first met the social worker two days before Robynn was born and at that time I was told there would be a lot of involvement from them and others because they thought I wouldn’t take care of Robynn to the best of my ability though I hadn’t even had the chance to parent her and prove that I could take care of her.
When I got out of hospital I moved in with my Mum for support. I loved staying with my parents but my partner did not and that caused a lot of stress. Eventually I moved back into my house with him and Robynn. The social work didn’t like this, so they were out nearly every day and introduced us to Aberlour and had them come out twice a week. I struggled caring for Robynn and doing housework at the same time, as a result social work asked Aberlour to do a PAM’s (Parent Assessment Manual) Assessment. When Aberlour told us this it stressed me out even more than I was because I couldn’t concentrate on the questions they were asking me while trying to feed or play with Robynn. I found it very hard to cope because in my mind they had already judged me as a bad parent. In the end, it took 3 months to complete the PAM’s Assessment. With all this going on it put a big strain on my relationship with my partner and I kicked him out after an argument went bad. As a result of him leaving, the social work had less trust in me raising my daughter and made me move back with my parents.
About a month into living with my parents the stress I was under was so overwhelming. I was not understanding what people were saying to me. I couldn’t voice what I really wanted to say because I would stumble over my words and if I said anything it could be turned and twisted into something else and would put me in more trouble. This came to a head when my social worker came to see me. Robynn was trying to settle and the social worker wasn’t taking anything I said seriously, like how much stress I was under and when my parents came home she quickly got up and left me sitting confused and stressed. The social worker stood outside speaking with my parents for over half an hour then left and when my parents came in they were very angry with me because of what the social worker said, I tried to explain that she misunderstood me but I couldn’t say it properly. An argument started and me and my Mum were shouting at each other which was very upsetting, so I put Robynn down with her toys, told my Dad when her next feed was and left the house.
I went down to the beach and thought if my Mum, the one person who understood me thinks I’m a liar and hates me, what’s the point of being alive anymore and I did a stupid thing. I thought about Robynn and how I couldn’t leave her alone in the world, so I phoned an ambulance and got taken to the hospital. While I was sitting waiting, the social worker phoned and said they would have to take Robynn for the weekend. When Monday came, the social work said that Robynn had to stay in foster care for the foreseeable future. Although I was very upset and wanted her home there was nothing I could do to stop the social worker. That’s when my contact began and trying to prove I could parent Robynn properly. I moved back home and tried to get my house in order and get my life back on track to have Robynn back home with me, but this didn’t happen until a year and a half and a new social worker later.
I was seeing Robynn for two hours, twice a week for months on end and at the beginning of this year a new social worker came in and took over and new staff came in for Aberlour and made such a difference to my contacts and when the new social worker saw what a difference Aberlour was making to my contacts and how well I was doing with Robynn he decided to start a Rehabilitation Plan to get Robynn back into my care. As well as Aberlour making a big difference to my contacts, an occupational therapist came in to help me get on track properly at home, so with everyone’s help I was able to make a chore board to help me keep on top of everything plus a board for different ideas of meals to give myself and Robynn and these have made a massive difference in my everyday life and caring for Robynn.
Now Robynn-Belle lives at home with me full time. My parents live closer to me and offer help when I need it. Aberlour still has a big part in my life but it’s not unwanted. I have met new parents and made good friends through the groups I attend with Aberlour and learned some new skills on parenting. It’s great having Robynn back and I wouldn’t have managed without Aberlour.”
The UN Committee emphasises that parents and caregivers play a crucial role in protecting and promoting their children’s rights. For example, in relation to Article 28 (right to education), research shows that parental involvement in learning is one of the key factors in securing higher attainment. Parents also have a key role to play in supporting their children to learn about their rights and how to access them (Article 5). As such, the Committee is clear that governments should do all they can to help parents care for their children, and put the best interests of the child at the centre of decision-making to ensure there is as little disruption to the child’s life as possible. Alice’s story is an example of how a child’s life can be disrupted if the parent is not given adequate and appropriate support at the right time. Alternative approaches in Alice’s example could have been to ask her what type of support she felt would support her and Robynn best, and to do more to help Alice understand social work processes and procedures.
While Alice and Robynn’s experience does not represent the experience of all families, this case highlights the importance of availability of support for families raising children and the impact it can have on not only the parent, but in other aspects of the child’s life, including their right to parental guidance (Article 5) and their right to an adequate standard of living (Article 27). Incorporation of the UNCRC would help ensure that children’s rights are recognised and upheld by working with parents to identify the type of support that the family needs. Incorporation would help ensure a focus on protecting the best interests of the child through preventative support, rather than providing support only at the point of necessity – by which point there may already have been significant disruption to the child’s life.