The manager of a controversial project which supports women on the condition they take contraception says it is putting an end to the “trauma” of mothers having children removed from their care after birth.
Kathryn Baker, chief executive of Tayside Council on Alcohol, says the Pause Dundee project is set to reach capacity in the coming weeks due to demand from vulnerable women in the city.
Launched last summer as the first project of its kind in Scotland, Pause Dundee aims to help vulnerable women who have had multiple children removed from their care by social services.
The programme is being administered by TCA and funded by several charities. Dundee City Council is sharing information on women who could benefit from the programme.
Those women are approached and offered wide-ranging support for 18 months to help them to get their lives back on track.
However, attention has centred on its most controversial aspect: that women must agree to use long-term contraception – to take a Pause from pregnancy – beyond the first 16 weeks of the scheme.
“There was a lot of misinformation at first,” Kathryn said.
“This isn’t a drug service, it’s not a parenting service – it’s for vulnerable women who have had children taken from them.
“It aims to break that cycle of repeated removal, so women who aren’t in a place to care for those children can take a pause in their pregnancy.”
The idea for Pause was born from the experiences of social worker Sophie Humphreys and Georgina Perry, an NHS manager, who each saw the traumatic effects removing a child from a parent first-hand.
They believed that having children at what amounted to “the wrong time” in their lives – whether they wanted to or not – could be detrimental in the long term.
Its first pilot scheme was launched in the London borough of Hackney in 2013 and it has since expanded to 25 “practices” across the UK.
In Dundee, the programme costs £300,000 a year, but is expected to save over £1 million in corporate parenting costs.
Kathryn added: “There’s a real commitment in Dundee to look at what we can do better together.
“We’re not about working in silos and putting people in boxes. People’s lives don’t happen in boxes.
“The important thing is that women who take part want to take a pause from parenting.
“I would say 100% of the women we are working with have experience of coercion, or domestic abuse.
“If women go on to have children in future the hope is that they feel ready because of the programme.
“I wouldn’t have taken this on if I didn’t think it was the right thing to do for women in Dundee.”
In Dundee, around 20 women have signed up to the scheme. Kathryn expects to hit the limit of 24 people “in the next few weeks” – suggesting that, despite the concerns, there are women out there who see Pause as an opportunity to stabilise their lives.
Roisin Smith, Dundee City Council’s depute children and family services convener, said she had “no ethical concerns” about the programme, which she has visited multiple times with female councillors.
She said: “It’s empowering for women to have that choice, to take a pause – some of them feel they have nothing to lose.
“I would encourage people to see it as a positive opportunity.
“It’s about building long-lasting relationships with their children – and is just part of a set of programmes that give us a real opportunity to make a difference.”