Cradling her son and feeding him his favourite cauliflower cheese, Michelle feels incredibly blessed.
Her bundle of joy, who turns one year old next month, smiles at everyone, is a picture of health and Michelle’s pride is equally apparent.
“He’s absolutely thriving. He’s started to crawl and has a fantastic appetite. It feels like only yesterday when he was born and watching him now, I just think wow – he’ll be one and walking soon,” Michelle said.
Anything shiny with lights and toys which make sounds get the biggest reaction. He’s also a very active library member and Michelle, aged 25, is keeping his room at their flat in Park North well-stocked with Disney books.
“I’ve made him a glitter bottle, which is probably his favourite at the moment. He will happily gaze at it for ages. He’s also really into noisy toys! But I can’t complain – he sleeps through the night and is no trouble at all, even though he’s teething,” she said.
“We’ve got a good routine going – he has a nap in the morning and afternoon, which gives me a chance to catch up with jobs like cleaning. We’re going to church, toddler and story time groups. It’s a busy schedule and things are going really well.”
Michelle, who has cerebral palsy and a history of epilepsy, is also pleased to be in good health.
“I haven’t had a fit in ages – the medication seems to be working much better. My cerebral palsy affects my left side and I have to be careful lifting heavy stuff, but I’m managing to do most things,” she said.
By contrast, Michelle’s first experience of being a mother was traumatic. She was 20 and living in the smallest room of her mother’s house.
“My mum, her partner and my brothers were there, so we had no space at all. I had all sorts of health issues too. I was having epileptic fits on an almost daily basis. The medication was making me tired all the time I couldn’t even look after myself, so it was a terrible time.”
Unable to look after her baby, he was taken into care and adopted by a new family.
“I know I failed him. I wish I could have done more. The guilt will never go away – I should have been able to do more. I was in such a bad place back then, but there are no excuses.”
Michelle’s second pregnancy was unplanned, but she was determined to rise to the challenge this time.
“I had to get it right – that was all that mattered. I wanted to keep my baby and would do whatever it took,” she said.
Mary Miller, who has been a social worker at Swindon Borough Council for seven years, was equally committed to this goal.
Gaining parenting expertise
She identified a suitable parent placement, which would give Michelle the opportunity to gain parenting expertise in a supportive environment.
“After having my baby, we lived with an older couple for 12 weeks, which was a huge help. It was a bit odd at first, being in someone else’s home, but you knuckle down and get used to it. They gave advice on what to do and what not to do – everything from how to get rid of wind to the emotional bonding,” Michelle said.
“Of course the love was there from day one, but I was also very scared. I had flashbacks of history repeating itself and my baby being taken away. They helped me overcome that and build the confidence, so I could prove I was a good mum.”
Back in her own home
Michelle returned to her own home last July and is loving every minute of motherhood. Her baby is no longer the subject of a child protection plan or classified as a child in need, which demands careful monitoring and review meetings. Instead Michelle receives support on a more informal basis and her independence continues to grow.
“My mum helps out a bit, like all grans, and I’m making new friends at the mother and toddler group. We also go to church every Sunday – people are so welcoming – his beautiful smile is irresistible,” she said.
“Having such a happy boy gives me so much joy. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance to show what I can really do. I’m so grateful for the support – if it wasn’t for the couple who took me into their home, my baby wouldn’t be with me now. I still send them little updates of how we’re getting on. I feel so much stronger and can actually do this on my own – it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Michelle making great progress
Mary is also thrilled with Michelle’s progress, which is so great that Mary will step back and a family support worker will stay in touch on a less frequent basis.
She said: “That’s what you do it for – helping someone to really turn things around and make a go of it. Michelle wanted to work with us and make it happen. She’s doing a brilliant job and has a bright future ahead with so much to look forward to with her beautiful little boy.”
The mother’s name has been changed to protect identities.
· £13 of every £100 of residents’ Council Tax is spent on protecting children and vulnerable young people, for example social work and adoption.
· Around £17 million was spent on children’s social care during 2012/13.
· There were 4,863 contacts to children’s social care between April and December 2012 – this is higher than the previous year when there were 4,605 contacts.
· In December 2012, there were 256 children in care. This compares to 243 in December 2011.
· 145 children in Swindon are on a Child Protection Plan at the end of December 2012. This has risen from 107 in December 2011.
· Most children in care are placed with foster carers in Swindon, but 58 are in placements out of Swindon, for particular health, education or social care needs.
· Every child on a child protection plan has a designated social worker.
· The majority of children for whom adoption has been identified are placed within 21 months.
· There have been no cases of adoption breakdown in Swindon in the last 3 years.
· There has been an increase in special guardianships, an alternative to adoption, in Swindon during 2012/13, with 13 between April and December 2012 – a significant increase from the previous year.