Situation: Celeste Bernard is 17 and has been looked after by the local authority for several years, having been sexually abused as a young child. As she reached her teens, Celeste became more challenging in her behaviour. She was excluded from a number of schools and verbally and physically assaulted a one-to-one home teacher. She began absconding for days and even weeks at a time. Her offending increased – mostly shoplifting or fraud – and seemed to be funding her increasing drug abuse. She also became involved in prostitution.
Problem: Having struck up a rapport with a new social worker – who had also been in the care system and a victim of abuse – Celeste began dealing with her past and its impact on her current behaviour. However, she has now discovered herself to be pregnant. As she was soon leaving care she agreed to an earlier move into supported lodgings. To begin with she did well in her lodgings but has since slipped into a severe depression, possibly linked to her isolation from anyone except those involved in her care. She has said that she is thinking of returning to prostitution because at least there was company and relationships were straightforward. She is fearful that she will become her own mother, lack all parenting skills and harm her baby. Indeed, she has a recurring nightmare in which she kills her baby, while her mother laughs at her.
Celeste needs all the support that we can give at this difficult time in her life, not only for her own sake but for the sake of her unborn child. There are some things that we can do to provide this much needed support. She should be offered services including mentoring, counselling, peer support from other young mothers and encouragement, help and advice to expand her social network.
Celeste should be given a mentor, someone who can come alongside her as a friend, perhaps someone who has a child and can talk with her about motherhood. Perhaps this mentor could also be young so that Celeste feels she has age in common with that person. Indeed, in this particular case, I feel that a young mentor would be most suitable, as she would be able to encourage Celeste to take part in young people’s social activities, and she will hopefully see that she can succeed in and enjoy life.
I think that Celeste should also be in counselling. It is clear to see that she has obviously had an extremely traumatic past and needs the time, support and space to work though this. Although I find this difficult to recommend, I do think her baby needs to be on the child protection register. Given Celeste’s drug abuse, prostitution and mental health problems it would be little short of negligent of us not to keep a very close eye on her child.
When her child is born Celeste would benefit from becoming involved with a young mothers’ group where she could learn good parenting skills and make friends. Anyone who becomes a mum, especially for the first time, finds that they feel slightly isolated.
Celeste’s feelings will be compounded by the fact that she has few friends. This is something that good, positive support and encouragement can address.
Indeed, it is therefore vital to her mental health that she is encouraged to meet others and socialise. The chances of this happening might well be improved if she is helped to change her lifestyle. She should also be offered the chance to participate in a de-toxification programme to help her end her use of drugs.
This is a very serious situation and one not to be taken lightly.
The most important thing that needs to happen is a boost for Celeste’s self-esteem. She needs to feel valued. Only then can we be confident that Celeste’s child will be brought up adequately. I feel that with the correct support, this can all be achieved.
Celeste has clearly been very badly treated, which has had a huge effect on her mental health. I feel that allowing her to live independently would be disastrous, particularly with a young child. I wouldn’t even say that semi-independent living would be suitable for Celeste. We need to ensure that her baby is safe and secure, and this re-occurring nightmare where she kills her child is very worrying.
She does appear to be very lonely and needs help to enable her to mix with a wider group of people. Hopefully, she will then be influenced by these people, and would not feel the need to return to prostitution or take illegal drugs. If possible, I would suggest that she is accommodated with a couple, maybe with grown-up children, who have good parenting skills, and are able to guide her. But social services would need to monitor this situation very carefully.
While I do not see a need to take the child away from her, all agencies Celeste comes into contact with need to play their role in ensuring that her child has a safe upbringing.
The fact that Celeste had started to reflect on her past is an encouraging sign, and shows that she does have the inner strength and potential to confront her difficulties, but she is going to require a substantial amount of support and close monitoring from people in whom she will have to invest a good deal of trust.
If the people working with Celeste feel it necessary, then there may be a need to involve the mental health services, but I think the main objective must be to make Celeste feel secure and valued.
The fact that she has a good relationship with her social worker is very positive, but the next step for her is to start relating well to other people who are not connected to social services. The mentoring scheme would certainly be worth considering.
The best way to help Celeste is for her to sit down and talk with her social worker, writes Chantelle Gordon. If she doesn’t feel comfortable talking with her social worker, then there are always duty-workers at social services she can talk to as well as Helpline and her aftercare worker. She does not seem to have any friends and that’s why she might feel so isolated. She needs medical help to turn her around. This might stop her feeling so isolated. Her social worker should help her look into all her options for her pregnancy, her sexual health, her present situation, and her social life.
Does Celeste want to keep her baby? If she does, antenatal classes might help. She might even make friends there.
Celeste was involved in prostitution and drug abuse, so has she been tested for sexually transmitted infections, such as Aids and HIV which could affect her pregnancy. The drug-taking might have had an effect on her emotionally, physically and mentally. Counselling might help Celeste deal with her past, recurring nightmares, fears about becoming her mother, issues around relationships and friends, trust issues, confronting why she wants to go back into prostitution. Her social worker could help her to cultivate hobbies and interests. These are another route to making friends.
Celeste has been in supported lodgings, but this might not be the right type of accommodation for her. I think all her accommodation should be re-examined. Is she capable of living on her own? If not, how can she gain the necessary skills to live on her own? Also are there support groups she can go to if she needs someone to talk to?
Is Celeste interested in some kind of training or further education? What would she like to do in the future? Celeste is still quite young and people think because you have a child, life stops. Lots of colleges and universities have nurseries, and she can apply for a grant because she’s in care.
Celeste hasn’t felt a lot of love in her life – and that’s what she needs. She also needs to know that she and her mother are two different people. She has a choice whether she becomes her mother or not. The only way Celeste is going to get to know people is if she takes a chance.
Respect yourself and other people will respect you. Staying positive helps: whatever happens, hold your head up high.
Chantelle Gordon is a peer educator for the Hearsex project in Birmingham and a care leaver.