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Supporting and empowering young mums 

By Emma Neill, Practice Manager HOPE Program

As we approach Mother’s Day, it is often the mothers of grown children that feature in our thoughts, our own mothers who we know would give just about anything to see us happy and content in our lives. However, here I reflect on the role of young mums, particularly those who are struggling with circumstances in their lives that are often out of their control.

Mothering is one of the most underrated, undervalued and challenging life choices for a young woman and is made even more difficult through complex circumstantial barriers.

Young women face stigma, judgement, isolation and are at an increased risk of becoming victims/survivors of Domestic and Family Violence.

As the Practice Manager of CatholicCare’s HOPE Program, which assists young women 16-24 years who are pregnant or who have a child under the age of two, I see a myriad of complex challenges that make mothering even more difficult, such as Domestic and Family Violence, child protection issues, homelessness, substance use and Complex Developmental Trauma.

Within the HOPE program, we believe that young women have inherently good aspirations for themselves and their children and it is our role to support them to unlock their own strengths and capabilities and empower them by providing opportunities to be heard and have choices.

HOPE values and amplifies the voices of young mothers by aligning their lived experience with the needs of vulnerable young babies and encourages young women to balance these two needs when making parental decisions.

Young women are empowered to provide safe, nurturing and predictable environments where they can heal from their own lived experiences and build better futures for the next generation. Through ongoing therapeutic complex case management for up to 12 months, the program focuses on early intervention as HOPE can commence working with young women from 20 week’s gestation.

Over the past 12 months, we have seen an increased rate of referrals from the Department of Communities and Justice, NSW Health and the complex risk and safety concerns faced by young women and their children have increased.

We are seeing young women and their children in volatile, unsafe and unacceptable environments because of the violent and abusive behaviours of their partners. We are seeing young women being forced back into unhealthy home environments because their options for safe and affordable accommodation are few and far between and we are seeing young women being disempowered by structures and systems that don’t value their lived experiences, choices and that don’t provide opportunities to foster growth as young women and mothers.

At HOPE, we are extremely motivated to empower young women to have safe choices and build upon their own strengths and capacity, so they can provide more for themselves and their children.

How we work 

The HOPE team are a group of delightful, highly skilled practitioners that are motivated to support the safety and empowerment of young women and their children. They work with young women by providing insights into attachment and attunement with babies and by providing information about the physical and neurological development of young children.

The work of Dr Bruce Perry, Dan Siegel, Bessel van Der Kolk, Stephen Porges and Patricia Crittenden is pivotal for informing much of what we do when working with young women and their babies and ensuring a trauma-informed approach.

The young women in HOPE weren’t necessarily afforded predictability or nurturing, warm home environments, so often we focus on unlearning and relearning for the mums so that they can provide this for their children.

HOPE is fortunate to have a small selection of transitional properties which offers a much needed opportunity for young women to establish their own safe space in the world to begin developing healthy routines, providing an excellent foundation for building positive futures.

This Mother’s Day in the HOPE program we want to take a moment to acknowledge all the young mums that are trying their absolute best to keep it all together and taking each day one step at a time. We celebrate the young mums who often don't get celebrated, and we want to say that we hear you, we see you, and we think you are absolutely wonderful! We want to congratulate all the young mums who took a moment for themselves amongst the chaos of everyday parenting. The mums who put on a load of washing so they could have clean clothes, the mums who made some food so they could nurture their bodies and babies and the mums who so graciously welcome us into their homes and show vulnerability, openness and a yearning for more. We are consistently in awe of your resilience, strength and patience. We thank you for all that you are, and everything that you do.

Supporting young mums in the community 

If you know a young mum that might benefit from additional support or you are a young mum facing some additional challenges, we welcome referrals from everywhere. You can email hopereferrals@catholiccare.org for a copy of our brochure or further information about how we can help.

CatholicCare is also currently working to expand HOPE with the aim of doubling resources for the program over the next three years, so that we can support 125 young mums annually to build better lives for themselves and their children.

For further information, you can visit catholiccare.org/hope or if you’d like to assist by making a donation visit https://fundraise.catholiccare.org/donate-hope.

About the author

Emma Neill CatholicCare Sydney Practice Manager HOPEEmma is the Practice Manager of CatholicCare’s HOPE program and is an experienced child and family Social Worker. Emma is currently undertaking a Master of Domestic and Family Violence Practice and is extremely motivated to empower young women by providing choice, opportunity and restoring power.

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