The first in 10 years

Today it’s the six-weekly review meeting with the social worker, Jane from the Family Nurse Partnership and one of the workers from Dunbar Street. Because of Frances’ history Mia is a ‘child in need’ which means she is ‘assessed as requiring additional services in order to reach or keep up a reasonable standard of health or development’.

I press her buzzer and wait. I press again and hear Frances’ voice. I’ve woken her up. Upstairs the flat is decorated for Christmas with tinsel around almost everything including the TV.

Frances fetches Mia from the bedroom. “Hello Princess,” she says, playing with her legs. The three-month-old is brought to the changing mat in the sitting room where Hassan is waiting with a bowl of warm water and some cotton wool. “Good Morning!” he exclaims to his daughter. “How are you?”

After Frances has brewed up she and I take our mugs downstairs to the meeting. I nearly don’t make it, slipping on the newly-mopped floor, spilling my tea.

Jane has already arrived and is in the communal sitting room. Linda [not her real name] comes out from the front office and tells us the social worker has had to cancel. “We need to do it anyway,” says Jane, who takes on the role of chair as Linda agrees to write the minutes. There is a lot on the informal agenda: education, health, housing, Frances’ mum.

Frances is enrolling in the morning on the Hair and Beauty course at the local college. Jane is pleased, it was her intervention that has paid off. “Well done!” she says. “When do you start? What about childcare? What equipment do you need to buy?” Frances says she hasn’t sorted childcare out  yet – she was waiting until she enrolled – so Jane and Linda say they will make some calls on her behalf.

“You’ll need equipment,” says Jane who apparently has had one of her 20 other clients follow a similar route recently. “You buy it direct from the college but it can cost up to £160.” Frances looks aghast. She hadn’t thought about that. “The Prince’s Trust can help with things like that,” says Jane. “I’ll ask.”

Yet again, I’m impressed with Jane’s knowledge of the support that is out there for people like Frances. She used to be a health visitor so, when it comes to parenting, she’s like another parent to Frances. (“Is she cooing yet?” she asks when they talk about health and wellbeing). But she’s also up there with educational opportunities, housing advice and can even navigate her way through the benefit web.

With education sorted they turn to accommodation. Frances says she wants to move out of Dunbar Street and move into Hassan’s one-bedroomed flat in Moss Side.

“Why do you want to go?” asks Linda.

“Me and Hassan want to start our family life together. And I want to be back in Moss Side with my mum and family.” It’s a good argument and there is nothing anyone can do to stop Frances going.

Linda explains that if she stays a few weeks longer then the staff here can not only give her a positive reference but have some leverage in helping her find a two- or three-bedroomed house where she wants to live. If she moves directly to Hassan’s then she’ll have to wait on the housing list like everyone else, without priority treatment. “No guarantees,” says Linda, “but you could be in a house by March or April if you let us help you.” Frances isn’t sure. Three or four months is a long time for a 17-year-old.

The meeting moves on. Frances’ mum is still in hospital although there is talk of her coming out this week. It’s seems amputation below the knee has been averted for now. What follows is a familiar discussion between Jane and Frances. Jane is concerned that, as her mum’s principal carer (and, it turns out, next of kin), Frances will be taking too much on once her mum is discharged. “Do you really need to do this? What about your siblings helping more or getting professional carers?” Jane has the wellbeing of Frances and ultimately Mia at heart.

“I know my mum wasn’t always there for me,” says Frances, “but I want to be there for her. I need to do this. If I don’t it’ll mess my head up and,” she says obscurely, “I’ll go down a different path.”

There’s more discussion about her mum’s care but Frances is adamant. “My mum needs me now,” she says. “And she appreciates me. Yesterday in the hospital she gave me a hug. It was the first hug she’d given me in about 10 years. I’m going to ask for another one when I see her today.”

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