Tuesday: The working week of a Women’s Support Worker.

Sep 06, 2019

After ten years in the women’s sector, Cate is leaving Beyond the Streets and the sector altogether, to train as a Clinical Psychologist. Cate has filled a crucial role for Beyond the Streets by working as a Women’s Support Worker within the Door of Hope project in east London. Reflecting on the last decade, Cate’s written up a memoir of sorts – a day by day account of the highs and lows of her role supporting women. We hope it will give you an insight not only into our work, but into the complexity of women’s lives and their need for long term, specialist support: the kind of support Cate has offered hundreds of women in the last decade.
I meet the woman I’m supporting outside the court, pass her a coffee and sit with her whilst she smokes a cigarette.  Today is the final hearing for her baby daughter’s child protection case.  The local authority is asking for a placement order so that the baby can be adopted.   We both know the judge is likely to grant this.  She’s been through this before with her three older children.
We meet with her solicitor who is brilliant and explains everything to her clearly and compassionately.
We sit in court and hear statements from the social worker and the baby’s guardian, talking about this woman’s drug use, self-neglect and inability to hold the baby’s needs in mind.  I am grateful that they put emphasis on how much she loves her daughter, but the whole process is very shaming for her.  I agree that the baby wouldn’t be safely cared for by this woman, but I’m struck by the shaming, power-laden dynamics of this decision being made in court.  The atmosphere is heavy as the judge grants the placement order. We file out of court in silence.
The highs and lows of supporting this woman have been shared by our whole team, who have known her for many years. We all share in her sadness and I call them to debrief once I leave court while my client is having a cigarette. All frontline staff at Beyond the Streets have external supervision monthly with a trained counsellor. It gives us space to process the pain of supporting women through circumstances like this.
Meanwhile, in the background, but going nowhere is the struggle that she’s facing eviction and we’re disputing this with the local authority. They say she made herself intentionally homeless.  We’re also trying to address her council tax debt.  She’s juggling a lot.
As we walk to the bus stop after court, I ask her what she’d like her daughter to find when she turns 18 and comes looking for her mum.  She says she’d like to be clean and have a family.  She desperately wants to be a mother.
It’s her birthday next week and we make a plan to celebrate.
On my way back from court, I respond to a referral for a woman coming out of prison on Thursday.  Her drugs worker has tried to arrange housing, but it’s fallen through so she’s coming out homeless.

Cate works at Beyond the Streets, a national charity working to build routes out of sexual exploitation for women. In East London, the Door of Hope project supports around a hundred women experiencing sexual exploitation annually. Cate’s insight demonstrates how vital advocacy and support is for women, contribute towards that work today by making a gift to the work of Beyond the Streets.