The names of all service users mention in this article have been changed
PRACTITIONERS: Luke Matthews, social worker, and Mark St-John, community midwife.
FIELD: Child protection.
LOCATION: Carmarthenshire, Wales.
CLIENT: Miriam Theotokos, 14, was heavily pregnant with baby Josh.
CASE HISTORY: Miriam was previously unknown to social services. Indeed, she also seemed to be unknown to the educational and welfare system. Despite having no money she was travelling in late September with her companion, Joey Woodman, 37, to a village in Carmarthenshire. Woodman denied that the child was his, saying he “wouldn’t dream of such a thing”. Given Miriam’s age, if Woodman were the father, it would have been a police matter (as she would have been 13 at the time of conception, around the previous Christmas). They travelled by Virgin Trains to Cardiff and then, without tickets, boarded a local train. Although not far from their destination the conductor refused to allow them to continue their journey.
They walked and hitched a ride before arriving at Llandeilo.
DILEMMA: Woodman appeared very caring towards Miriam although he said he was not the father nor a family member and had no legal responsibilities for her.
RISK FACTOR: A baby delivered to a 14-year-old mother away from home brought attendant risks to both.
OUTCOME: Miriam kept Josh. She later married Woodman with whom she would have four other sons and two daughters. She became an influential member of the International Society of Infant Studies (Isis).
Research has shown that the risk of teenage pregnancy increases in urban and industrial areas where there are high levels of unemployment, a higher number of semi-skilled or unskilled workers and more people living in social housing.
Indeed, this was the likely environment in which Miriam Theotokos had grown up with her parents Anne and Joachim. Heavily pregnant, and only 14, Miriam had left home to travel with Joey Woodman, to Carmarthenshire -the Garden of Wales. A sequence of events required them to stay overnight in Llandeilo just short of their intended destination.
“I remember thinking that it had been quiet that night on duty when the referral came in,” says social worker Luke Matthews. “A health colleague attending a nearby astrology convention contacted me saying he had heard about a young underage girl giving birth just outside Llandeilo. We still joke about how he didn’t see this one coming!”
With nowhere to stay and no money (all Miriam had was a book she was reading), they were fortunate that a local singer Archie “Peter” Gabriel – “the voice of a Welsh angel” -who had just returned from a gig had taken the couple in. “We’re quite isolated here,” says Matthews. “We’ve got a few B&Bs but there’s only one main hotel within about 10 miles: but with the convention there weren’t even any rooms at the Holiday Inn. It was lucky that Archie appeared when he did.”
Being the end of September it wasn’t cold, but neither was it warm enough to sleep outside. “Archie had given them a small spare room at the back of his cottage,” says community midwife Mark St-John. “It was quite comfortable really. They only intended staying the night. But the baby wasn’t for waiting.”
St-John had been alerted to the problem by farmers Dean and Gary Sheppard who had been preparing livestock for the September fair: Archie’s cottage is on their land.
“When I arrived, baby Josh had already been born,” continues St John. “Miriam proved very resilient. She was on a z-bed, but this was unsuitable for the baby. So Dean quickly scrimmaged about outside and fetched a small crib-like trough used for feeding cattle. We cleaned it out and put some towels in. I put some towelling around the baby to help him feel he is still in the warmth and safety of the womb.”
While awaiting an ambulance to take Miriam and Josh to the nearest hospital, Matthews arrived. He wasn’t the only visitor. “Word had clearly got out, and all sorts of people were turning up,” he says. “Of course, I was concerned for the well-being of mum and baby – and having people milling around wasn’t really helping.”
Matthews continues: “Archie took charge of them all – all the time praising Miriam for her achievement, boosting her self-esteem. Although he declined requests for a song to mark the birth, he had been a heavenly host though.”
It seemed the event made a real impression. “Two years later one of the stargazers at the convention, Dennis Wiseman and two others, who came all the way from East Anglia, brought birthday gifts to send to baby Josh: a golden baby bangle, some perfume and a fragrant body oil,” says Matthews.
Despite concerns about her relationship with Woodman, Miriam kept Joshua and returned home. “Neither of them really said very much,” says St-John. “I think we got about three sentences out of Miriam – she seemed very ponderous.”
Woodman proved equally silent. “Not surprising when you think about it,” says Matthews. “He was nearly 40 and she was just 14: a kid, really. If he was the father he’d have no defence. He’d have been put away for a long time. Nonetheless, Miriam clearly saw him as a father figure.”
Apart from Miriam’s parents, of whom little was known, the only other family member appeared to be “cousin Liz”, a practising Baptist, who apparently had always been told she couldn’t have children but had recently, aged over 50, given birth to her first son: John.
Miriam and Woodman’s relationship clearly blossomed over the years. “We heard that they married and had six other children,” says Matthews. “But Woodman always maintained that he wasn’t Josh’s birth father – though he did bring him up as, well, a foster dad and then a step-dad I suppose.”
Both workers agree that the stars were on the family’s side that night. “It could easily have been so much worse,” smiles Matthews. “Imagine if it had been Christmas”.
Arguments for risk
It might well have been the correct option to take both mother and baby into protective care. But this young woman was clearly resilient and had lived outside the system for a long time. She knew how to survive. The community midwife and social worker were happy that things were in hand – and had arranged for mum and baby to get to hospital, where a child protection assessment could take place.
Although Miriam and Woodman were less than forthcoming, it transpired that Miriam’s mother, Anne, had not thrown her out for bringing shame on the family, but on the contrary, helped her daughter and grandson. “Her mother was supportive – a real saint,” says Matthews.
Forcing someone who seemed sure of her own destiny to be taken into care – be it a foster home, children’s residential unit or, as more likely, a mother and baby unit – would not solve anything, and probably only create further difficulties.
Arguments against risk
There must have been deep suspicion about the paternity of the child. What was a middle-aged man doing with a pregnant 14-year-old? Both mum and baby must have been at risk and needed to be removed to care for their protection.
Had there been no convention, given the isolation, this event may have passed unnoticed by the authorities. “The convention was held here,” explains St-John, “because a keen local astrologer had predicted a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces and this occurred seven years ago. This blaze of light brought the stargazers to South Wales in remembrance.”
They had nothing to identify them. The place they called home simply didn’t exist. Indeed, all Miriam had to her name was a copy of the children’s book Artemis Fowl and the Opal Deception. “It was clearly worth a few bob,” says Matthews. “It was a first edition, signed and in mint condition. It was an immaculate Deception.”
This case is a warning to all of us who are involved in safeguarding children not to jump to conclusions based on first impressions, writes Patrick Ayre.
When Matthews first encountered this family, he must have been contemplating an emergency protection order. The relationship between Miriam and Joey was unclear and their accommodation situation could hardly be called a stable one.
Some of the people who turned up to see the child after the birth did not make a good impression, in fact someone said they were “nothing but animals”.
But because Matthews took the time to make some basic enquiries, he found that Miriam’s family and Joey were well respected in their local communities. Excellent reports were received about Miriam’s capabilities and character and he learned that she had in fact been specially selected to play the leading part in a major local Nativity event.
Though no one involved with the case ever actually saw Josh’s real father, he turned out to be a powerful and ever present influence on the rest of his life.
This case also shows us that risk is inevitable and life is unpredictable. The most we can hope to do as social workers is to strive to reduce the dangers. We now know that had Matthews intervened to protect Josh and prevented Joey and Miriam from continuing their journey, there is a good chance that the baby might have died at the hands of the infamous child-murderer, Harold Basileus, who some days later killed all the babies in the local maternity unit under the delusion that he was the king and one of them was threatening his throne. Patrick Ayre is senior lecturer at the University of Luton and an independent child welfare consultant
It all began with a word
The names of all service users mention in this article have been changed
More from Community Care
- Why we’re investing £6.5m to recruit more than 100 children’s social workers
- Helping to make the difference
- Young people leading the way on changing services in Doncaster
- What works (and what doesn’t) when celebrating social workers’ successes
- Employer zone – showcasing a selection of the sector’s top recruiters