Inside Out began in November 2015 as a peer mentoring training programme for mums who have had a child removed by Social Services. There had previously been no support for mums in the child protection system in Norfolk.
The course was designed to facilitate parent to parent support, enabling mums to share their grief and their personal experiences, and help them feel less isolated. Trained mentors from the pilot project are now able to support new mums that are being referred into the programme by Children’s Services.
After meeting weekly for several months the first cohort of mums began to feel comfortable in the company of others in the group. Realising that they had been silenced for so long by the trauma of recent events, they began to feel ready to express their emotions. The mums turned to theatre as a medium to tell their stories, which they would later perform as a means to provide comfort to other parents in the child protection system. When they tried to imagine themselves as an outsider would see them, they saw themselves in a square room with a light bulb in the middle, that illuminates when their stories are being shared. The group called itself ‘Inside Out’ as this described the way these mums felt after losing their child.
The drama is authentic, gritty and raw, though the storylines sometimes contain a playful element. It provides a means for parents to be able to shape their experiences and get their voices heard. Theatre has brought the group closer, working together in an atmosphere of trust, respect and mutual support. The process has helped them to feel more confident about opening up and taking risks, knowing that inside this room they will not be judged.
The language they have grown used to during the child protection process is authoritarian, forming barriers which made them feel distanced and disempowered. Through theatre they are creating a new shared language to be able to present and describe their own concepts, using their own techniques (such as narrative illustration) and terminology. This is helping to build new layers of confidence and regain ownership of their experiences.
The group plans to take the performance to a variety of audiences. These include social workers in training and those who make policies/build strategies for those in the child protection system. The mums feel that the structures of child protection are complicated and slow – and should be replaced by prevention strategies that work to keep children with their birth families.
The current system is understandably child centred, but there is no process in place to provide support for the parent, who is often left feeling ashamed, embarrassed and lonely. Counselling and other therapies could be used to help parents address traumas or possible cases of poor parenting that have occurred in their own lives, which may help to re-develop their relationship with their child. They feel that the family bond should be maintained; instead, the parent feels cast aside and the opportunity to re-connect the child with its birth family is narrowed. A cycle of unaddressed grief begins for the parent, and this often leads to the parent having another child to replace that loss – and the cycle continues.
Future PlansFuture plans for Inside Out include the creation of a centre, for counselling, training, painting and other art therapies. A fathers-to-fathers group is being planned to run concurrently with the mothers-to-mothers group. At the end of the training the two groups will come together to overlay their stories.
To find out more about Inside Out contact:
Sue Smithurst: 01493 743054/07787 542896