Mental health services for marginalised women
By Geraldine Esdaille,
In 2019, I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship. It was a life changing moment which shaped the development of a community project I had just founded called New Beginnings. The project involved working with parents in the child protection system whose children were at risk of being forcibly removed from their care due to concerns of abuse and neglect.
"The Fellowship provided me with the opportunity to find out what others were doing elsewhere in the world. I travelled for six weeks around Australia, meeting families from Indigenous communities and listening to their stories."
As a social worker and academic, I had heard of the benefits the Fellowship could bring to newly founded projects that were in need of inspiration from people who had travelled a similar path. I knew that in Australia, there were a number of organisations doing incredible work with the Indigenous People from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. These were people whose lives had been scarred by forced child removal and Indigenous assimilation, known more commonly as the ‘Stolen Generations’.
At the time I applied for the Fellowship, I had written a trauma informed programme that would support the parents that we were working with to explore and understand how their childhood had impacted on their identity. We had run just one small group with around five parents whose children were subject to child protection plans. Although things were going well, I felt there was something missing from what we did. it related to our ability to authentically work in ‘partnership’ with parents and balance that with providing them with the space to tell their own stories.
The Fellowship provided me with the opportunity to find out what others were doing elsewhere in the world. I travelled for six weeks around Australia, meeting families from Indigenous communities and listening to their stories. I also spent time talking to people who worked for projects that were trying to support families in the child protection system in a more inclusive and less authoritarian way. Wherever I went I met people who had been directly or indirectly affected by the Stolen Generations. And every story I listened to was as powerful as the one before: heart-breaking and incredibly poignant. But a theme that connected them all was the issue of losing one’s identity.
In Adelaide, I was fortunate to meet Cheryl White and David Denborough from the Dulwich Centre Foundation, an organisation supporting workers and communities in different parts of the world who are responding to significant trauma. One way in which they do this is through narrative therapy – which they state is a respectful, non-blaming approach to working with people. I learned it is important that practitioners understand their own stories and histories before they try to understand the lives of those they are working with.
I returned to the UK and implemented a Narrative Approach into the work we carried out in New Beginnings which has helped us work more authentically with our families.
Listening to our parents’ experiences of New Beginnings also taught me that we needed to change the way we delivered our programme. The paper ‘workbook’ we were using was out of date and the content inaccessible for those with learning needs. Their feedback encouraged me to apply for further funding from the Churchill Fellowship Activate Fund which we are using to create a digital interactive resource; one which is full of our parents’ stories, recounting what they have learned on their travels through the child protection system and New Beginnings.
The charity that I run today is very different from the small community project I founded in 2018 thanks to the Churchill Fellowship. It has, in part, taught me something that I already knew but I had to travel a long way to properly understand: good practice with families who have experienced trauma involves listening to the people you work with and hearing their stories. If I had not been offered the time and space to reflect on these issues, on my travels around Australia, New Beginnings would probably not be as strong as it is today.
Visit New Beginnings' website and find out more.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
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