Birth Companions' Birth Charter for women with involvement from children's social care sets out fourteen core principles for how services and systems in England should support all women involved with children’s social care from conception to their child’s second birthday - the period known at the '1001 critical days'.
The Birth Charter was developed with invaluable input from members of the Birth Companions Lived Experience Team, 4PB Family Law Barristers, MSB Solicitors, the Association of Child Protection Professionals (AoCPP), and the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University.
Birth Companions is also delighted to have received support for this Birth Charter from:
Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families in England:
“Today we see a great milestone towards family justice. I am very happy to support this Charter as a signpost to us all, that we can do great things collectively to support women and their families throughout pregnancy, those crucial early years and beyond.
Stable Homes, Built on Love, the Government’s Reform Strategy, recognises how effective help can transform the future for families in need. It emphasises the crucial support role that family, friends and professionals all have in keeping children safely with their families wherever possible.
As the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, I will continue to champion the rights of families to stay together and fully support Birth Companions in their ambitious and principled endeavours.
HHJ Madeleine Reardon, Family Court Judge:
“I have been delighted to support Birth Companions in the development of this Birth Charter. The early hearings in care cases, which may take place shortly after a baby is born, involve some of the most difficult and anxious decisions for any Family Court judge. The stakes are very high and there is usually no risk-free solution. However if the mother has felt well supported during the pregnancy and birth, and has had the opportunity to form at least one trusting relationship with a midwife, social worker or other professional, it is usually easier to put in place a safeguarding framework that will help her to care for her baby with ongoing support.
Many if not most women who are involved with children’s social care have experienced trauma, and the Charter rightly emphasises the need for a trauma-informed approach. For a number of years Birth Companions has been doing outstanding work to highlight the impact of trauma on women in the criminal justice system. I very much hope this Charter has a similar effect within the family justice system and children’s social care; and that it helps to strengthen good practice and collaborative working, not just among professionals but between them and the families they serve.”
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG):
"The newly published Birth Companions Birth Charter clearly shows how some of the most vulnerable women in our communities can be let down by those involved in their care and support. As maternity professionals, we have a responsibility to ensure we deliver high quality, personalised maternity care to every woman, regardless of her background or circumstances. Every woman has the right to give their baby the best possible start in life. They also should receive trauma-informed care from appropriately trained professionals alert to the effects of possible past trauma on women, and who are committed to meaningfully supporting them. We support the need for a new national health and social care pathway in England for women with involvement from children’s social care.
It is particularly concerning that research has shown that women’s choices around birth can be influenced by their involvement in care proceedings, where external services want to influence factors such as the timing of a birth. Women have the right to make informed decisions about their birth plans, based on their preferences and supported by personalised information on risks and benefits. This is central to safeguarding positive maternal and neonatal outcomes.
Women going through care proceedings in the postnatal period are more likely to require personalised postnatal services that truly meet their needs. It is simply unacceptable that specialist perinatal mental health services are not always available to women if they have been separated from their baby, and this must change.
Access to specialist care and in particular continuity of carer is recognised in the Birth Charter as crucial in improving outcomes, particularly for women in deprived areas. The rollout of this model is still limited by the persistent staffing pressures in maternity services. We hope the publication of the long-term NHS workforce plan will address this to ensure that all women and people have access to the best possible care."