Tammy: ‘Parent-to-parent, we can feel understood’

Tammy, on the right, speaks to another mother during a day of activities at the ATD Fourth World centre in Southwark.

Tammy, on the right, chats with another parent.

Tammy is a mother who has known ATD Fourth World since she was a child. She now comes to our well-being activities with her own children. She has experience of social service interventions, and has recently been trained as a Parent Advocate with her local council. We interviewed her about her experience, to celebrate the Global Day of Parents on the 1st of June.

Tammy has been training to become a Parent Advocate with social services for a few years and has now started to support parents. When she went through a children services procedure years ago, Tammy did not have an advocate, and she felt ashamed and alone. She says:

“The social worker had a negative impact on me. She thought it was all my fault; she didn’t understand my side at all. She judged me before she even knew me.

“They embarrassed me, talking about my family and about me, and I had nothing to say for it.”

After that, she met another social worker who introduced her to Parent Advocacy. “This social worker, she wanted to inspire me to do things and challenge me. She first offered that I have an advocate, and then went: ‘Actually, do you want to be one?’ and I said yes.”

Standing up for parents’ rights

As a Parent Advocate, Tammy’s role is to accompany parents all throughout children’s services proceedings. With knowledge of social services, acquired both by lived experience and through her training, Tammy helps parents understand the proceedings and what’s happening in meetings. She lets them know what their rights are.

She also offers emotional support to parents: “We help them relax, we’re here to support them. […] They can be put under a lot of pressure being alone in front of a social worker, and can be stressed. So I’m here for support.

“All parents need a bit of guidance, even if they’re experienced parents. And they still need a shoulder to cry on.”

Because Tammy did not have a Parent Advocate to support her in the past, she is motivated to be there for parents today:

“I’m trying to help the parents who are struggling, help them stand up for their rights, so that they wouldn’t feel like I did.” – Tammy, Parent Advocate

“I want to see a change in the system”

Tammy says: “I want to make a change for these kids, and make it so that families can stay together more. That’s what we need. We need more community, and to keep families together. Get their voices heard.” This is very much the purpose of ATD Fourth World’s advocacy in our campaigns for the right to family life.

For Tammy, it’s important for parents to have an advocate in the room with them, so that they don’t feel like they are on their own during meetings with other professionals. She says: “As a parent advocate, I can also be someone who knows the parents, who knows the children. Not a professional who hasn’t really met the family. It’s difficult to be in a room with only strangers judging you.

“We should be in charge and pick who is inside the conference room, it’s a very sensitive part of child protection. You wouldn’t like everyone to hear your story. This feeling is horrible.” – Tammy, Parent Advocate

Being a parent

Tammy has experience of social services interventions, but she also has experience of being a mother. Being able to offer support parent-to-parent is invaluable. She says:

“I’ve got experience as a parent. I’m not saying because I have 7 children I’m more experienced as a mother, because I’m still learning. That’s my challenge in life. But parent-to-parent, you can feel understood.”

Tammy, a mother, is participating in a cooking activity with her two children. They are mixing flour into a bowl.
Tammy and two of her children at Frimhurst Family House.

“Parents might think there’s nothing out there for them, to help them when they come under social services. But if they see they can have a Parent Advocate, they’ll feel a bit more supported. Feel like they’re not on their own. And they can be a bit more relaxed.”

Being able to influence the things that matter to us undoubtedly contributes to our well-being. Parent-to-parent advocacy or peer advocacy is one example of this. By acting as a Parent Advocate, Tammy has had a positive impact on parents she is supporting. This new role also has a positive impact on her personal life. She says: “It’s changed the way I think. I’m thinking out of the box now.”

“Now I can understand the system, I feel more confident in my life too and in my interactions with social services. Now I know that I’ve got my own back.”

Before our interview ends, Tammy proudly displays her official Parent Advocate badge, all the class notes and slides, and her certificate. She says: “Now I’m happy, I even got the certificate for it, I’ve got a badge, I’m official! I feel good.”

– By Celia Consolini