Gemma fell apart after the birth of her first child, her mental health deteriorated, and she turned to drink. This led to her ex-husband getting custody of their child. Fast forward 6 years and Gemma is with a new partner, Nick, having a second baby when suddenly everything starts to fall apart again, and she finds herself at St Michael’s trying to prove she is a good mother.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. But I knew I was a good mum.”
“When my son was born my ex-husband questioned everything that I did constantly telling me everything was wrong. He was the main reason for my mental health issues and drinking but I didn’t know it then.. When I had the baby, I felt so unsure of everything, like I was doing everything wrong. The staff helped build my confidence and understand what had happened to me and that I was living with trauma.”
“He would text me and tell me I couldn’t speak to my son or see him and it would get my back up. Believe it or not, he got me done for harassment. I showed the staff the messages he sent me and they helped me see him for what he was a narcissist. Sonia was amazing helping me understand what he was doing and giving me the skills to not bite back. I realised he was after a reaction and so I learnt to not message him straight back.”
It began to snowball
When her second child was born social services were involved because of her history of mental health problems. They came to visit and that’s when things started to fall out of the couples control.
“The whole process since last November was a eye-opener. It all happened so fast. They [social services] came in because of one thing and then it was 15 things, and then it snowballs. And unless you have concrete evidence you are a good mum it’s really, really tough. They took the baby and put her in foster care. It was the hardest thing that’s ever happened.”
Next followed court dates and a lot of research. Gemma had never heard of a Family Residential Assessment Centre but she knew she needed to prepare for it.
“The judge was adamant. There were no ifs or buts we were going to get a residential assessment we just had to wait till a space come up.”
It took four months until they found a place at St Michael’s.
“When I looked into [a residential assessment] I got more worried. I’ll be honest, I thought it was going to be much worse than it was. I read online about assessment centres with CCTV and recording equipment. I thought it would be really clinical. But it wasn’t like that.
“We were fortunate enough to go and see St Michaels before the assessment and we had a meeting with Kate the manager. It was really beneficial because you kinda get a feel for it.”
Gemma had a lot of time to think in the four months.
“People think I am mad, but I was really looking forward to it because my daughter was in foster care. She was five and a half months when we got the placement. I saw the placement as the chance to prove that I was a good mum
“I walked in there and I looked at everyone as friends, I know that sounds, like I am sucking up, but not once, did I feel criticised. Anything that was said was always said in a supportive way. I think because I went in there in a positive way, I felt confident approaching the staff if I felt unsure of anything.
“I went in there knowing I was a good mum, but I knew the aim was to show them that. I couldn’t abide my social workers before I went in I would tell them things and they would interpret it and then take it the wrong way. The staff at St Michael’s were a completely different kettle of fish.”
Watching other young mums struggle
It was hard for her watching the other much younger mums struggle with the assessment process. She tried to give them support.
“I still have a really good relationship with [the other young mums who were doing the assessment] they still call me after their meetings with staff. Gemma laughs “I feel like I work for you. It’s kinda like they are young and they nitpick at what the staff are telling them and I try to tell them you shouldn’t do that the staff are there to help you.”
Gemma and her partner passed their assessment and are now back at home.
“I can honestly say coming to St Michael’s was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Working with St Michael’s she was able to understand how her relationship with her ex-husband had affected her when she had her first baby, She was able to put that behind her and grow in confidence with her second child.
“I felt that I wasn’t good enough and whatever I did I would think “clearly that’s not good enough.” Being here [St Michael’s] I realised he had really high expectations.” Sonia was great at helping Gemma understand her ex-husbands his behaviour.
“The staff were teaching me that I didn’t need to be the perfect person, which helped bring my anxiety levels right down. The staff said the basic parenting was there, it was just the other stuff holding me back.”
Gemma and Nick are still working with us through the Securing Change Programme. Her baby has a disability and we are working with her to make sure they get what they need. She is also in the middle of a custody case for her other child. She talks fondly of the extra help she has got from St Michaels.
“They got me a domestic abuse support worker to support me when I left. They gave me sessions on how not to react to his games – they were what had made me lose my mind. They listened to me, and went through everything with me, and 10 weeks on I am still in control.”
Find out more about our family residential assessments here