Sunday, 25 November 2012

Our Saga Continues. Chapter 4: In which our protagonists researches her situation

In the days that follow, I work out what has happened. It looks as though the hospital didn’t properly log our change of address and appointment letters have gone out to our old place.

I relay this to the social worker when she next calls.

She sounds sceptical. “So, that’s what your saying has happened?”
I cut her off
“That’s what I think has happened. I can find out for sure when I go in for my scan.”
The scan they have finally booked me in for.
The one that should have happened months ago.
 I agree to pop down to the social services office afterwards.

I research child protection procedure, to better understand what will happen next. I talk to people about it, especially other mothers and especially other mothers who have been investigated themselves.

There is a predictable class divide. Middle class people tell me there’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a mistake and of course it can all be smoothed out. Working class mums tell me to be fearful, to put everything in writing and to never ever admit to any vulnerability. I learn a lot.

The not showing vulnerability thing: That’s because Susan MacDonald is there to help the baby: not me. There might come a time when she needs to consider whether he might be better off without me. The game is not simply to cope: It is to be seen to be coping.
 If this feels pressurising to me (and it does) I can only imagine how tough it must be to pull off in an actual crisis. I start to see how na├»ve I was, when I almost suggested approaching them voluntarily, as a source of help.

I also learn that social services in Glasgow are a little bit different. They are larger and better resourced than other places and therefore (in practice if not in theory) have a lower threshold for doing getting involved, which explains some of the wariness I've encountered towards them.

In areas where everyone is struggling to get by, it seems particularly strange that such an individualised service is funded so generously.

It’s the irony of a state which won’t insulate housing, limit fuel prices, raise state benefits, provide jobs or tackle a heroin trade so widespread and influential that it takes in every ice cream van, arty night venue and town councillor in the city. But will nevertheless send a worker around to note that this household or that has no food in the cupboard, no heating and no adults that aren't out of their minds with grinding worry and the bleakness of life.

There are unintended consequences: Someone tells something that happened at her kid’s school. A Mum wanted to make a complaint about how the school had handled some bullying. The teaching assistant made some comments implying that the child was poorly dressed and hungry. The mum understood what was being threatened. She left without making the complaint. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Not that kind of people

 “That was social services” I say to my husband. He flips.

He is outraged and also scared. There’s something else too, He sees this as an insult. Something is implied about us.

“They should know we’re not that kind of people”

I never get this attitude. What are “that kind of people.”? If child protection procedures apply to one person they apply to everyone. But now is not the time for that argument. We’re about to have a much worse one.

I tell him not to worry, it can all be cleared up. He accuses me of complacency. We “discuss” how best to deal with the situation. I think a letter should sort it. He thinks we should go to the midwives and demand to know what is going on. 

In other words, in the words we actually use: He thinks I am a weak person who puts my own discomfort at conflict ahead of our baby’s welfare and will end up getting him taken into care. I think he’s a crazy bam who wants to kick off at midwives which will get the baby taken into care.

We stand facing each other and shouting. This is terrible. We never argue. Later on my husband will tell me that while this argument was going on he felt like “everything was falling apart.”

We make up enough to concentrate on the issue at hand and go to the library to photocopy medical records and write a covering letter. We fax it from the library fax machine. The librarian makes small talk so I explain what the letter is all about in a self depreciating “oh-dear-look-at-the-mess-I've-got-myself-into” sort of a way. The librarian is horrified and scared on our behalf. She lets us off the price of the fax because “it’s an emergency.”

We go outside and the implications of her reaction hit me along with the cold air. I didn't think I was being complacent up until now, but perhaps I have been. This is obviously a very serious situation. I agree we need to talk to the midwives. Yes, Now. But, politely.

We press on to the health centre and both the receptionist and the midwife are shocked and scared for us. The receptionist comments on my measured tone. “If it was me I’d be pure raging” I understand my husband’s point of view more and more. I do seem complacent. I’m not though, honestly. I'm only trying to appear calm because it seems the best way to deal with it.

Well, its not, he points out. I'm not the official person with the headed paper any more. I can’t afford to be calm and just expect to be listened to. I'm just an ordinary mum with no power and I need to find an official person to advocate for me.

Turns out the midwife doesn't mind taking this role at all. She will call social services straight away and let them know I've been to all my appointments. Her efficient reaction again worries me. As we leave I think:
“Bloody hell. Everyone in this city is scared of these people” 

An Unexpected Phonecall

Its late Monday morning and I am mooching about the kitchen. It is my third week of maternity leave and a Monday morning with no work is still a novelty.

I am drinking tea and reading a letter from the maternity hospital. It says I haven’t had any antenatal care since Christmas, which is bollocks because I go to the midwives at Maryhill Health Centre every month, and have done since we moved here. The phone rings and I pick it up.

“This is Susan McDonald from social services. We’re a bit concerned that you haven’t been accessing antenatal care”

The training kicks in, as they say in the military.  

The CAB training that is. 

I remember when I first started there. I used to ring up the DWP or the council and bark like a little terrier. It was aggression born from powerlessness and inexperience. Later on, I got a bit more used to being listened to and that changed. I developed a smoother, more polite negotiation style.

I pull it out now, along with the antenatal records from the cupboard. “I have the records to hand right now. I can give you the times and dates of all my appointments”

I can hear Susan’s pen scritch scritching at the other end of the line, so I pause as I’m speaking to allow her to catch up.

She has some additional questions:
Is this my first child, My address: Is that the high rises? Am I in work currently?

“This is really a shock.” I say “To come to the attention of social services, before the baby is even born”

It is a shock. I feel like I’ve been caught out at something. I shouldn’t have said it though. It sounds weak, like an admission.
Linda says she will check out my story and call me back in a few days. I offer to post her photocopies of my records.  “Thank you for your concern” I say as I hang up.

“Thank you for your concern?! Where did that come from? It sounds snotty. Not how I usually talk. But no, it’s perfect. It’s the training kicking in.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The NCT Meeting: A Vignette

The light from the generous bay window is shining in onto a dozen anxious couples perched on mismatched sofas and chairs, more indicative of wealth somehow than matching ones would have been.

Various clutter including a child sized viola case and sheet music has been pushed into a corner to make room for us and a jolly woman in Birkenstocks has just asked us to brainstorm sources of help for new parents. We are at an NCT class is Glasgow's West End. 

“Imagine you’re at the very end of your rope” says the Jolly Woman “Who would you go to for help”

It’s a sobering thought. I have worked at the CAB, however and I pride myself on knowing what to do in most situations. I think I would know what to do. In my mind I am thinking “Sure Start Centre, GP, Health visitor, Social Services”

Following my usual strategy for group activities, I do not leap in straight away with the answer. More polite to let everyone else have a go first, I think. I am immediately glad of this when Dee, a flawlessly put together veterinary surgeon, suggests hiring a night nanny. Someone else chips in with a Postnatal Doula; another person, a support group like La Leche League.

I don't add anything. I thought I had the right answer but I don’t. At least not a answer appropriate to here. 

As the conversation moves on, I realise every possible source of help I was able to think of would have come with some element of social control. I look at the list now filling the flipchart paper. Not one of those would, although some of them look expensive.

Aha, I think, here is a pithy observation about the class system. Middle class people can access help without being judged.

I file it away to use later on my blog. I have no idea how pertinent the issue is about to become.