Bella’s story

Bella* was referred to Alana House after being arrested for assault and a Section 5 Public Order offence.  She was assessed by the NHS Liaison and Diversion team and referred to Alana House’s Enrich programme for support through the Out of Court disposal pathway.

Alana House’s Enrich support worker met with Bella in her home town as it would have caused financial difficulties for Bella to travel to Alana House’s Reading centre. The support worker conducted an empowerment radar with Bella based on the nine pathways to assess her needs and developed a support plan to address these needs.

When the support began, Bella was very uncertain about trusting the support worker.

She reflects: “I have been working with [my support worker] for a year now. At first I was very apprehensive to accept her in my life, as having no friends or family support for most of my life, I had learnt not to trust or depend on anyone other than myself.”

During their first session, Bella openly stated that she did not like working with people who were younger than her. The support worker explored with Bella why the mistrust had developed; her perception was that younger people were inexperienced, and they also reminded her of her children who had been removed from her care. They both agreed to continue building rapport. This gave Bella the opportunity to gain trust, express her needs and have a voice.

Bella has had her three children removed from her care by the children’s father, and there is a child arrangements order in place through the family courts. The father made this decision when the local authority expressed concerns about the children and initiated Section 47 child protection enquiries.

The local authority has now started public law proceedings because Bella’s eldest child refused to remain with her father and returned to Bella’s care. These proceedings mean that this child as at risk of being placed in long-term foster care as the father is refusing to take her back. The local authority is also concerned about the child living with her mother due to Bella’s unhealthy relationships that are affecting her daughter.

In addition to these distressing factors, Bella wants to move house with her daughter because they are facing negative complaints from their neighbours, which is affecting their quality of life. They are also under-occupying the current residence since the other children were removed. However, they are currently unable to move because the housing provider has issued warnings due to reports of anti-social behaviour, and the criminal proceedings are still ongoing. The support worker is closely collaborating with the anti-social behaviour officer to manage these extremely complex issues that Bella is experiencing. Bella has made significant efforts over the past eight months to improve her behaviour towards the neighbours, and this has been acknowledged by the anti-social behaviour officer as a positive step towards being able to move.

Bella said: “When I started working with [my support worker], I was in a really bad place in my life; losing my children, losing the love of my life after 15 years, I really didn’t know what to expect from yet another professional coming into my space. In time I learnt to trust her. I knew that she was genuinely there for me and she was giving me a voice. “

Given the complex issues Bella is facing, the Alana House support worker has worked with her to identify several key areas of need. Since support at Alana House began, the support worker has:

· Submitted a discretionary housing payment (DHP) to the council to cover the rent shortfall due to under-occupying the home.

· Attended all child protection meetings and coordinated with Bella’s solicitor and social worker to provide transparent and cohesive support.

· Liaised with Bella’s criminal law solicitor and attended all court hearings following her arrest.

· Begun the process of collaborating with Bella’s family law solicitor to apply for a child arrangements order, enabling Bella to see her two children who she has not seen for 18 months.

· Established regular contact and meetings with the anti-social behaviour officer, the probation officer and Bella’s mental health practitioner. Joint meetings are regularly scheduled to share information and ensure effective collaboration which helps to avoid miscommunication and creates an environment of trust for Bella.

This support has been life-changing for Bella, who previously struggled to manage her strong emotions and make her voice heard. Bella’s own childhood was marked by traumatic events and adverse childhood experiences, which have continued to impact her coping mechanisms in adulthood. As a result, she uses maladaptive behaviours to deal with her overwhelming emotions. Bella needs to access therapy, and this will be explored during one-to-one keywork sessions to identify the appropriate therapy and group options for her that will incorporate domestic abuse recovery and support healthy relationship models.

Bella said: “I have always struggled to express myself correctly for the situations I have faced the past year but [my support worker] has always grounded me and made me see both sides and how to act appropriately.”

“She has been the most successful support that I have ever had, she has help me sort out my DHP, attended every social services meeting, all my court hearings, all my issues with the neighbours and dealing with my housing association. She has gone above and beyond for me.”

“Going back a year before [Alana House support began], I was very disruptive, I was very opinionated, and I would fight anybody for my beliefs. Since working with [my support worker] I have calmed down massively with my attitude towards life and my attitude towards the neighbours. Even though it’s been hard, knowing that I have [my support worker] and Alana House on my side has really helped me in the biggest way anybody could imagine.”

“At the beginning I walked out of multiple social services meetings as I could not deal with stuff that was being said. [My support worker] has helped me deal with those emotions… she has messaged me throughout and praised me on how well I am doing and how calm I am keeping which I really appreciate.”

“I personally think I have grown and matured so much since the support from Alana House began.”

Support for Bella is still ongoing, and she and the Alana House support worker are continuing their journey to enable Bella to make positive changes to her life, strengthen her relationships with her children, and help them to grow up and develop healthy relationships in their own lives.

Bella is incredibly appreciative of all the support Alana House has given her.

She said: “I personally think that Alana House offers more support than any other organisations I have worked with – and there have been many. If I could fund you myself to help everyone struggling like I have done then I would.”

* Name changed for confidentiality

About Out of Court Disposals

The NHS Liaison and Diversion (L&D) services identify people who have mental health, learning disability, substance use or other vulnerabilities when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system as suspects, defendants or offenders.

In Berkshire, every woman arrested and entering custody is assessed by someone from their NHS L&D team. The service can then support people through the early stages of the criminal system pathway, refer them for appropriate health or social care and, for low level offences, enable them to resolve the crime without going to court, which is known as an Out of Court Disposal.

Alana House works alongside the local L&D team and Thames Valley Police to enable women with complex needs to be diverted to Alana House through an

Out of Court Disposal. Through their Enrich programme, Alana House then works with these women, providing holistic, trauma-informed support to empower them to make positive choices in their lives and reduce their risk of re-offending.

Help more women like Bella

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