Throughout 2023 we have continued our series featuring articles that focus on a ‘day in the life’ of people working in a variety of services and organisations across Ayrshire. The dedication and efforts of these people are key to reducing reoffending and improving outcomes for people in contact with the justice system and the wider community who are impacted by justice issues.
We would like to thank Maureen for sharing her story with us.
Maureen’s role as Children’s Worker sits within the Caledonian Team which forms part of the Partnership Delivery Team.
The Caledonian System is an integrated approach to addressing domestic abuse. It combines a Court mandated programme for men, aimed at changing their behaviour, with support services for women and children. A ‘systems approach’ – the combination of services for men, women and children. Working together with the whole family is central to the Caledonian System’s ultimate aim of reducing the risk of harm to women and children.
The Children’s Worker role is unique in that there is only one post within the team although the work is an integral part of the systems approach to the whole ethos and purpose of the Caledonian Programme. The work is primarily contact with parents, children, and young people, offering them access to talking and listening support sessions which enables them to make sense of their experiences of abuse. The role can also include work with men on the programme, supporting them to become better dads and helping them rebuild relationships with their children.
How I Got Where I Am
I started off my career in the restaurant business working for BHS for around 9 years. I travelled around the UK training and leading new staff on the operational side of the business within brand new stores. I was also a Customer Service Ambassador for the company UK wide. I left there to go on maternity leave, returning only one day a week to stay at home with my baby and soon after I started private nannying from home.
This progressed into me gaining an interest in child development and then play leading as my own son went to pre-school and then onto Primary School. I enrolled at Ayr College, gaining an HNC in Childcare and Education and was involved in the roll out of a new provision at Castlehill Community Playgroup, leading my own room of 24 pre-school children. I stayed there for 5 years before moving across to Alloway Community Playgroup where I worked for a further 5 years. During these 10 years I was also involved in several other childcare provisions within South Ayrshire as well as running my own Summer Playscheme for up to 40 children.
In 2006 I was recruited to set up and co-deliver a brand-new children’s service with South Ayrshire Women’s Aid following the Scottish Government’s ‘Listen Louder’ campaign. This campaign dedicated funding to Women’s Aid groups across Scotland for specialised services for children who experienced Domestic Abuse. This work was the highlight of my career at that point, leading the service for 10 years and participating in writing monitoring reports and meeting project outcomes within the Equality Team. During this time, I attended the University of the West of Scotland and qualified with a degree in Child Protection. I then moved to the private sector, working in young people’s residential care for two years, before securing the position of Wellbeing Officer for Education with South Ayrshire Council until early 2021.
It was early 2021 and I noticed the advert for the Children’s Worker within the Caledonian Team. During my time at Women’s Aid, I was involved in the roll out of Caledonian after the initial pilot in local authorities was a success and the ethos always interested me, especially that the work was directly involving male perpetrated abuse against women. In my previous role, there was no scope to correspond or even consider the behaviours of abusive men let alone deliver a frontline service with them directly to bring about change. For this and several other reasons I knew I wanted to apply for the Children’s Worker role as I believed the job specification was a perfect match for my experience and skill base. I was successful in securing the role and joined the Caledonian Team in March 2021.
A Typical Day
The working week follows a general pattern of receiving referrals for children of women whose partner or ex-partner has been to court following an offense around medium to high-risk Domestic Abuse crimes.
I have information sharing sessions with the referral source and undertake my own background reading of the case on our recording systems. I then make telephone calls to the women of those children being referred, arrange appointments to meet them or, call the schools of children, initially making contact with the appropriate person, usually the Head Teacher or Guidance Team. Then follows one to one direct sessions with children, giving them time and a safe place to talk about any fears and worries they have around the family home situation or changes to their family life. Office time includes writing up case notes and giving appropriate feedback to mothers.
Direct work with fathers can also be facilitated, supporting them to make effective change in relation to parenting styles and supporting the mother as a parent. I co-deliver the Children and Fathering module, which takes place over five sessions, then write up case notes describing the man’s contribution at the group, including attitudes, values, and propensity to change.
“The safety of women and children is always paramount”
Challenges Affecting My Work
Like other jobs, there are challenges along the way. In this role some barriers to engaging in support can be that victims of the abuse still live with the perpetrator, so at times it can be unsafe to cold call women to offer support. The safety of women and children is always paramount and so for several relationship complexities it can be a challenge even to make initial contact.
One Moment I‘ll Always Remember
I visited a house last year where there were 3 children, the youngest child of 2 years old was standing watching TV while I was speaking with the woman. Without speaking a word, the child brought a blanket over and came and stood with his back leaning against me. I wrapped the blanket around the child, and they sat with me and continued to watch TV while I chatted with the woman.
For me the beauty of children is their unplanned ability to live in the current moment, the child trusted me enough to seek warmth and an unconditional nurturing experience in that moment, which reminded me of the importance of making connections through meeting children’s needs. I believe we have much to learn from the ways of children, they are often overlooked and at times not allowed to ask for change.
“In my role I have the opportunity to empower people, widen their views and contribute to them taking back control of their lives”
What I Love About What I Do
My views, expertise and skill base around the invisible harms and social constrictions of Domestic Abuse and the wider harms against women and girls to transfer effectively to the direct work I do with men, women, and children.
I stand by the challenges women and girls face everyday living in the world we are surrounded by and seek to challenge the inequalities between men and women and the patriarchal social and gendered constructs children can be raised in.
In my role I have the opportunity to empower people, widen their views and contribute to them taking back control of their lives which prior to accessing support they may have felt helpless.
I believe I do my work in an openminded way and I am continually inspired by the words of children and their ability to make sense of situations in a way that as adults we can lack a times. I believe we can learn so much from children, embrace their individuality and their right to hold an opinion. This is a healthy approach to life and as adults we can learn so much from that.
As Marion Edelman, the Founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defence Fund and Human Rights Activist famously said, “If we don’t stand up for children, we don’t stand for much.”
If I Could Change Anything
In an ideal world I would bring an end to all forms of violence against women and girls.
Realistically, I would ensure there is an ongoing funding commitment to provision of services supporting victims and survivors as well as bringing about change in behaviour of men in their minority who perpetrate such behaviour.
Would I Choose This Path Again If I Could?
I would promote working with children as a career path in terms of the vulnerabilities and strengths of children and the privileged position I believe professionals are in who get to meet children and gain their trust and confidence.
The power to contribute to children having better, more informed lives, abuse free and to be truly listened to as well as having their views heard is immeasurable.
What Would I Say to Someone Considering this Career Path?
Anyone who has an underpinned knowledge and understanding of the feminist analysis of Domestic Abuse and its cause and consequence would be the ideal candidate for this type of role.
In order to support and empower victims of Domestic Abuse these are the fundamental basics in order to do no more harm.