A Young Mums View on Support in 2014

Recently I was due to attend a conference as a representative of young mums. I had to fight rather hard for an invite. This was a conference about the support of young parents (anyone parenting under the age of 25) yet, NO young parents had been asked to attend on the panel discussion, let alone talk. Sadly, my son was ill and I couldn’t attend. I wrote this article for the delegates pack.

This was seen by CEO’s of charitys, social workers, support workers, police, midwives and the head of the UK teenage pregnancy strategy.

My name is Emilie. I am a young mum to four children. I was a teenager the first time I fell pregnant and I am still a young mum at the age of 24. I’m single and my children’s dad is not involved in their upbringing, I live on a council estate and claim benefits. If ever there was a cliché young mum – I am it!

It can be (very) frankly claimed that people, like myself, are government funded breeders and that my situation is seen as a lifestyle choice with living expenses and a free house thrown in. However, a young person who chooses to or ends up parenting at a young age doesn’t always fit the uneducated, poor, promiscuous or thoughtless stereotype. Some young parents have chosen to be parents at a young age. Some young people have found themselves in that situation. People don’t plan everything that happens to them.

I think for some, youth pregnancy and parenting symbolises a breakdown in society, innocence, stable families and the idea of marriage. Is being a young parent the end of the world? Well, if you’re asking me, it is the end of life as you know it, but definitely not the end of the world. The years spent on personal development during those early adult years are different but any parent, of any age who parents their child, will tell you that parenting brings huge personal development.

Professional Support offered for young parents who need help can range greatly. In a professional supporting role you may aid a parent in completing university studies. You may teach a young parent to cook a meal with fresh ingredients. Both are achievements with positive outcomes. Support is such an individual thing. It is about making that young parent the best version of themselves. Often support can be given by a stable, loving family. But that isn’t always possible. If you don’t talk to your family or your family has broken down; statistically if you haven’t done well in social expectancies, such as school or have emotional attachment needs that haven’t been met, that’s when the young parent and their child may have more difficulties. These are likely to be the young parents that need extra, more specialised support.

Reading this, you could be supporting young parents professionally, on the other side of the supportive spectrum you could be a lone voice who simply choses not to judge or somewhere in between. Collectively though, I believe we all know that one of the biggest, fundamental problems are the stigmas that young parents face from society, media, their peers and sometimes even themselves. I think the social stigmas come from society’s collective dislike of children under 16 years old and even young people over this age who may not be considered mature, having sex. Young parents, sadly, often receive negative reactions.

For young people who are becoming parents, the foundations of a positive pregnancy need to be aimed for early on. If a young woman is insecure about her pregnancy she has the potential to become a home bound young mother. It is a fact that disadvantaged women, either socially, emotionally and/or economically are more likely to get pregnant at a younger age and go on to have a baby. As a consequence there are higher rates of social exclusion for young parents and their children.

However, I believe that young parents, when supported, can be very good parents. When I say supported I don’t mean every young parent needs a social worker and strict monitoring. Support, of course, can be that and there’s nothing wrong with it but, support can be as little but, hugely significant as when you see a young mum at a group you attend and, you say hi! She’s a mum who has got out of the house in one piece! Hurrah to her and hurrah to you. See? You have something in common!

I believe that the poverty within young families is real. Whilst many young parents go onto achieve great things, that they may never have done if they hadn’t become a parent at a young age, there is no denying the immaturity in development and education could cause a deficit in met care needs – even if just for a while! This is true though, of many new parents in today’s climate – we’re all struggling in our 20’s, our 30’s, my parents are still struggling in their 50’s. However, we can’t be complacent about the need to encourage young parents to succeed and break the cycle of children being born to young parents in poverty and becoming young parents in poverty themselves. By encouraging change in the social structure parents in poverty allow themselves to live in and the society of which they deem themselves worthy of this would have a huge influence on the outcome for each young parent and their children. A person’s self esteem needs to be supported when they are pregnant and through parenting for achievements to be accomplished. Then, often, those achievements will bring new and higher standards.

Many of the most vulnerable young parents don’t want or think they need the help. Whilst, as professionals, you (mostly) can’t force it, the excuse of, ‘they don’t want help’ ect can be very dangerous in aiding the stigma that many are working to abolish. When you’re finding it hard to engage a young person it is often important to step back and go ‘back to basics’ that, you might skip past because of time constraints, for example. What life has this young person lead? Is testing boundaries being perceived as being difficult and not wanting help, consequently continuing this young parents socioeconomic pattern? Any person who doesn’t complete a developmental stage, such as learning boundaries, will often, subconsciously, repeat the same patterns again and again. In your role, is your perception of that person aiding stigma or can you see past it, even when you’re being pushed to your limits?

As a young mum, what key things do I think need implementation for best practice in today’s rapidly evolving modern world? Language spoken and body language when in a supportive role is highly important when initialising first and subsequent contact. I can tell, quite quickly, if someone is supporting me as a young mum who has to have intervention or as a mum who is receiving support and just happens to be young. The difference is huge. The first may conclude in me not feeling supported and ending up quite frustrated. This frustration, no matter how hard I try to put it to the back of my mind, then impacts on the children in my care meaning the support has been counterproductive. The second may result in me feeling understood and in turn my positivity, making a happier, more productive household for the rest of the day.

The importance of the way you, as a professional, present yourself, your attitude, openness and clear explanations cannot be under estimated. Again, going back to basics is fundamental as not everyone understands abbreviations, for example, that you use without thinking about it! Your knowledge is often secondary. Listen to that person. If you don’t know, tell them, ‘I don’t know but I will find out and let you know,’ and do follow it through! You cannot expect a young parent to understand their limitations and accept help if you don’t understand your limitations of knowledge and when you need to gain greater understanding to help that young parent. I believe a person in a supportive role knows two things. One, the person you are supporting is the expert of their own situation. Two, you and the young parent can never stop learning from each other.

I think supporting bodies also need to make the best they can of their continuity in care policies. Personally, during a five month period, my son has been assigned two different social workers. This can’t always be helped and support should be about moving along and being present in the ‘real world’ but do bear in mind that the people who are in need of support are often vulnerable people who can be adverse to change. If there needs to be a handover of support what could you do to aid the transition as smoothly as possible? A joint visit for handover? A telephone call update rather than an email? A face-to-face meeting rather than a phone call? Every little step forwards makes change and improves best practice and thus raises the standards for those you are handing over to.

I further think it’s important to understand where young people find their knowledge too, then to look at what you could also engage with to empower this young person. A lot of the people you come into contact with may not have a support network. These days, though, young people can access support through seach engines, Facebook, Twitter and watch TV a lot of the time through their phone or on smartphone apps. Texting is fast, easier and often cheaper and emails are accessed quicker than it takes to dial a number these days. At 3am support is found on Twitter #NightFeeds, through apps and Facebook. If I need to contact someone I text them in the evening, when I’ve finally sat down, as they will pick it up in the morning and I’m less likely to disturb them. A text or email fits into daily life even when the children are screaming and I don’t have time to make the call before the office shuts. If you can recognise and, actually embrace, that social media, apps and typing forms of communication are a good thing, then you will be benefitting your services. This is the way the world is now, if you don’t embrace it, I would go as far as to say that you are not fully satisfying your duty of care.

Young people have whole support networks spanning miles with overseas connections becoming the norm. There are great examples of support that have correct information such as a new app for young parents in pregnancy and through early stages of parenting that the charity Best Beginnings have made called Baby Buddy. Social media isn’t all about worst case scenarios, panicking parents with incorrect information that you have to reassure against anymore.

Now, I would like to revisit my first paragraph with you. Whilst true, it is not the full story. I hope that it will reiterate that the brief synopsis you may receive of a person needing support may not always give you the full story: I am Emilie, I do have four children, two are alive and two are not. The two that are alive were born very prematurely at 27 weeks and 28 weeks retrospectively. My son, born at 27 weeks, is categorised as disabled and I had to stop working my consistent and set hours to become his carer. I have gone from being totally self-sufficient, supporting myself, my children and home on my wage (on which I paid tax) to now claiming disability benefits and spending my days, normally in some hospital waiting room whilst working hours that suit my family, when I can. I do live on a council estate by fluke and I live in an ex-council property, I wasn’t ‘given’ it because of my situation. My husband couldn’t handle the loss of two babies and the health needs of the others and his path in life, unfortunately, took him on a journey away from his family.

Originally I knew I was a young mum but I didn’t feel like one as I was married to someone older with my own home and a job in the social services field, I was offered help but I was determined I had it all sorted, and I did. When I was on my own with a son who had complexed needs I realised I needed help. It took six months for me to accept it. I fought on saying, ‘I can cope.’ Eventually my son’s health took a turn for the worst and I was in a bad place emotionally and also with my employer for being off work so frequently. Like most young parents I wasn’t a bad mum but I needed help to be the best version of myself and I had to accept and embrace it, or carry on and ultimately end up having it imposed upon me. So, my family helped in practical ways by cooking me meals for the freezer etc. Before I finally gave into flexible working I received anti-depressants, counselling and financial help with childcare so I could try and continue to work set hours. My health visitor would visit at home on my day off to make life a little bit easier for me. Support for my children was very much at the forefront. Support for me became secondary. Upon giving up work I set up a website: http://www.MummyMai.com and started to blog about premature birth, loss, parenting a child with complexed needs as a single and young parent and everything inbetween. I also took to Twitter, @Emilie_Mai_ to gain wider support and to fill the loss of company from work friends and colleagues. But this didn’t help completely and I felt isolated. So I searched for people who I could talk to about my experiences with an aim to improve support for young people like myself.

I was signposted to and became in contact with the charity Best Beginnings (info@bestbeginnings.org.uk). Six months later I have talked at three conferences around neonatal provisions using the Best Beginnings Small Wonders DVD. I have tested the Baby Buddy app, and have been filmed for videos going into the app and I have even spoken at the launch night of Baby Buddy. I’ve been on BBC radio, in many national newspapers and Pregnancy and Parenting magazines and I’ve been invited to talk in secondary schools, at Hertfordshire university and also at Bedford university. I have been empowered to talk about my story using social media and to, hopefully, help others with ex-professional and personal insight.

The help that I have received has made me happier and that impacts positively on our family life. I have been enabled to be the best version of myself as a person and a mother and empowered by the knowledge that I’m helping others too. Initially, I may appear to be a cliché young mum but that isn’t my full story and I am proud of who I am and of where I am going.

However, I could not have been the best version of me without help. Help ranging from my sons disability team Social Worker to the elderly lady from over the road who helped when I had a screaming child in each arm and I was trying to shut the boot of my car!

By Emilie-Mai first published on Mummy_Mai.com

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