Professionals want to support mothers apart – they really do (well most of ‘em)!

I have now finished interviewing professionals for the Mothers Apart Project and have got some really splendid interviews. I have discovered very many professionals who want to support mothers apart. Hurrah! However, I also spoke with a couple of interviewees whose thinking about some issues was starkly different to the majority.

A tiny minority of interviews expose instances of the prejudice that some professionals have towards mothers apart, and also some alarming beliefs about how some people just aren’t capable of change, or that some interventions – such as counselling – are simply ineffective with this (sub-human?) group. In my research, these are the outliers – the data that differs from the mass. Although uncomfortable to listen to at times, these interviews are interesting because they are more likely to represent the views of those professionals who would most likely benefit from training because of their attitudes, values and beliefs. I considered whether it would have been worth trying to interview more professionals like this for my research project but I concluded that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with this approach, as it would seem somewhat disingenuous. I would rather find further participants who can provide ideas about how to help and support mothers apart as I am sure that there are many more services out there that I have not yet discovered and many more professionals who have learned how best to support this, often very vulnerable, population.

When I started this project in 2013, I was confronted with a good deal of skepticism and, sometimes, downright hostility towards mothers apart. I was seriously worried that I was never going to find any professionals interested in talking to me about supporting mothers apart from their children. Over time, through my research – which has involved much networking and a fair amount of doggedness – I have met an amazing collection of professionals who really get what I am trying to do and have given me the most wonderful interviews.

Now that I am in the process of transcribing and analysing, I am re-living these dialogues on a daily basis and I feel fantastically fortunate to have this material. These are true gifts that I have been given and I value them highly. People say to me, “It must be awful having to transcribe all that material! Can’t you get someone else to do it?” But no, I promise you, it is awesome to be utterly immersed in such rich data. It is exciting and remarkably satisfying to listen to this variety of incredibly insightful, intelligent, caring professionals talk to me about how service providers and workers might be helping or harming mothers apart – and what an ideal service might look like that could provide such women with help, support and advice. My interviewees’ knowledge and experience is tremendous and I am greatly enjoying listening to them contemplate why are so few services for mothers apart and what the barriers might be to service provision. They have also shared some great ideas about what the main aim of training to improve professionals’ responses should be and what this might look like.

The interviews, along with other data from the #mothersapartproject planning group, will enable an in-depth and nuanced understanding of how professionals can support mothers who have become, or are at risk of becoming separated from their children – no matter what their role. The key tenets of the interviews so far are shaping the training to comprise a multi-agency workshop that focuses on how to raise awareness of the situations of mothers apart – including what their needs are and how to address their needs – in training that is interactive and not didactic, and has a creative element that hooks you in and touches your emotions. Importantly, it will include the mothers apart themselves because many professionals want to hear their voices, which is great news.

Sound good? Then watch this space – all the details of the workshop planned for Wednesday 17th June 2015 coming soon… (Yes, we’ve set a date! So exciting!)

About Dr Laura Monk

I am a researcher and counselling tutor based at University of Nottingham. My doctoral research investigated how to improve professionals' responses to mothers who become separated from their children. I developed a training workshop for the professionals who mothers come into contact with - largely at the intersection of health and social care, the family courts and domestic abuse services. I am also a counsellor and psychotherapist and offer feminist therapy for survivors of domestic abuse - especially coercive control. I am a Women's Aid domestic violence prevention advocate.
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