‘We Won’t Judge You’


    When Diana Camilleri’s 12-year-old son, Tony, began to
    misbehave and was excluded from school, she felt there was nowhere
    to turn.

     


    Camilleri, a single mother of three from east London, began to
    blame herself for her son’s behaviour and was afraid that he
    might be taken away from her if she could not cope.

     


    But then she was referred to Newham Parenting Support Programme,
    and found more than just a listening ear.

     


    “I had got to the stage where I didn’t know what to do,
    and discovered I was not alone,” she says.

     


    Camilleri is one of hundreds of parents whose children have been or
    are at risk of offending who find support in the project, which won
    a Community Care Award 2004 in the young offenders
    category.

     


    Newham Parenting Support Programme began as a service run by one
    worker, Stephen Barnabis, in a police station five years ago. It is
    now based in Stratford, east London, and employs seven full-time
    staff.

     


    Now parenting co-ordinator at the project, Barnabis was frustrated
    by the lack of support for parents of young offenders. “There
    was nothing except limited help from social services, and many
    parents said they had nowhere to go,” he says.

     


    The programme has helped more than 500 parents and carers and now
    has 190 cases on its books.

     


    As part of their work, staff help people on parenting orders comply
    with their conditions, as breaches can lead to
    imprisonment.

     


    “Parents can be hostile to parenting orders,” Barnabis
    says. “We have to show the benefits for them, but sometimes a
    minimum three-month order is too short for families to resolve
    their problems, so we continue support when the order is over. They
    might need phone calls to remind them of appointments, or need
    accompanying to meetings as they don’t want their friends to
    know because of the stigma.”

     


    Other services on offer include therapy, drop-in sessions and
    workshops using interactive CD-Roms about parenting. The project
    plans to spend the £5,000 it received as part of the award on
    new laptops so that parents and carers can access information
    themselves.

     


    People are referred to the programme from outside agencies,
    including youth offending teams, but there has been an increase in
    the number of self-referrals – a sign of its unique
    reputation.

     


    “Word of mouth is becoming our best referral system, as one
    parent will tell another,” Barnabis says.

     


    Word of mouth has also put the project on the map in a wider sense,
    as visitors have come from as far away as Australia to see what
    makes it tick. The project is also being considered as a national
    model for similar services in this country.

     


    Barnabis puts the success of the project down to a realistic ethos:
    “We believe that parenting is the hardest job in the world.
    There is no one rule book that has all the answers – what
    will work for one family will be different for
    another.”

     


    Project worker Sharon Cover says: “One of the key things we
    aim to provide is an opportunity for people to offload without
    being judged. Mothers will say ‘my son went to court but I
    didn’t understand what was happening’. We help to break
    down the jargon and give space for parents and carers to feel
    comfortable, and take time to build consistent relationships so
    families will open up.”

     


    Camilleri, who has been on a summer break with the project, says
    her son was “as good as gold” during the trip.
    “It was also great for me to meet other parents in the same
    situation and build my confidence.”

     


    The project is also helping Camilleri, who is unemployed, to look
    for work and to get her son back into school.

     


    She says: “Since I started working with the project, my
    situation has improved a lot, and I am more able to manage. I
    don’t know what I would have done if they had not been
    there.”

     


    The young offenders’ cateogry was sponsored by Green
    Corns.

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