Giving mums, dads and babies a better start in life: Acacia Family Support

AcaciaPresented by Rachel Gregory, Operations Manager, Acacia Family Support

Borne out of personal suffering of me and another founder, we exist to support families with Post Natal Depression (PND).  Started at the back of St John’s church Walmley, North Birmingham. To be there and be available – listening ears and arms to hold babies – as the service grew, we took over the church building, we also provide other services, aromatherapy, baby bonding sessions, signposting service – women working with healthcare professionals.

Also run an advocacy service – significant in child protection cases. There was a high demand for services, women were travelling across Birmingham – opened up 2 other centres – Kingstanding, and in East Birmingham – EB one is based in a children centre as predominantly in Asian area.

Learnt that we needed to adapt needs of our community for different areas – for people in EB/K discussing PND unlocked the door to meeting their basic needs. Each case is different and unique – person centred work.

Amanda’s examples [Amanda presented with Rachel] – mums often present with other needs once they are through the door – one mum came this week and she was saying how things were very difficult at home and needed a stairgate. Couldn’t buy one themselves, was causing anxiety and stress. Acacia has a wide network and it was just a case of going to an administrator who emailed out and within minutes we had an email back offering a stairgate. We try to point them in the direction of meeting all the needs of the mum. We look at the holistic issues for the mum.

Also, one lady who came to see us had relocated from London, she felt she wasn’t getting spiritual support from her church in London –  I was able to speak to the pastor at St Johns and he was able to identify someone who could come alongside the mum and meet her needs pastorally.

Rachel – every case is just so different – its about really meeting that person where they are at. The service has continued to grow and more complex needs identified. Back when I was poorly, one of the things that helped me was CBT [Cognitive Behavioural Therapy] – I was really persistent with trustees how we could use those techniques and skills to help women. I was working with a Clinical Psychologist, we were approached by PCT (Birmingham Healthy Minds) to host 5 CBT trainees. In 2010 as part of improving access to psychological therapies, Lord Layard passed a bill which meant people had to be able to access evidence based therapies –CBT.

Because PND was seen as an area of need which was poorly resourced it was identified as one of three areas of need. The trainees came to work with us, those therapies were integrated into our services, found ourselves in meetings with top clinicians, we had a lot to offer, the staff we were working with helped us bring it to the forefront.  I was given the role of coordinating the project.  Dir of Psychology would question us at every opportunity to assess clinical governance and risk.

Statistics –

Bham Healthy Minds is a primary care service – 18,000 referrals alone for mental health issues, 89 staff. They are grateful to work with organisations like ours to support them in working with service users. The Trust is unable to achieve this on its own. We see this as a time that the church can really fulfil that gap.

Sadly the “church” didn’t appear to want to know – it was the children’s centres embraced us so that’s how we deliver services. Gone on to develop group workshops based on CBT – we have a developing service in the south of Birmingham (service in NW is on hold due to funding issues). We have also developed a fathers service. Also piloting a “helping hands at home” scheme.

On 9 May going to Westminster to see how families throughout the UK can work with us for this support. Meeting with Andrea Leadsom MP to discuss how it can be rolled out in different areas.


In terms of how you are supported – how do you get funding?

In transition at the moment, we are being funded by PCT for next 12 months, need to work with CCG to get funding, also local grants and bids for funding.  Do have local donations but none from church!

Was it originally your intention to create model in Birmingham and take it further afield?

We just wanted to provide a safe place for mums to access it – through that kind of coffee morning set up we wanted to develop different kinds of therapies. For me CBT was so effective, it was very frustrating – GP referrals could take up to 2 years. Took 5 years to arrive in Bham! Govt have said they are still committed to CBT, therapists who have been trained who worked with us in Acacia don’t just use CBT but other modalities that they are aware of – means that we can work more holistically. Also work with secondary care services where there is risk – 10 years in we have learnt a lot more about risk – suicidal thoughts etc. We work with secondary care mental health services. Also have access to an 8 bed ward for mother and baby services in Bham – we can access it directly

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy – more expensive than CBT – more training for personality disorders

Yes – our therapists are trained in all different modalities

From where you started – there are lots of churches who could provide that service at a low level – do you think this is something which could grow and develop? Big jump from someone who is stuck at home – how do you get people out of the door into the group?

Vision is to try and make it accessible throughout the UK. What we do is not rocket science, training/supervision needs to be there, we have taken referrals from very early on –  but GPs were working with us early as nowhere else to send ladies to – worked with supervisor of midwives in early days who would be on hand to help deal with clinical side.

Are you taking referrals from professional agencies, are you recognised as a professional support agency?

  1. We take referrals from GPs, CPN, mother and baby units, to a person looking in it appears seamless –
  2. We do home visits for women who are hard to reach, might go in conjunction with family support worker, new births visits etc – what we do is encourage mum to leave the home, to get her to one of our centres.
  3. One particular mum comes to mind – she wasn’t able to come out at all, spent a long time with her over the phone, after a couple of visits you could see we were building trust, walk around the block, did that a few times, after several weeks she came into centre. The centre is somewhere we can establish strong connections with other mums

Growing awareness amongst patients that you are there?

We’ve started to do a lot of training with family support workers, train the workers, FSWs are not going in with PND at the forefront of their mind, our mission in Bham is for FSWs to have this at the forefront of their mind -10% of mums have issues of this but the figure is probably higher?

Areas of need –

  1. research study done West Midlands was worst area for whole of UK for PND – research wasn’t validated so we couldn’t use it – therapists have found that if not treated then it becomes entrenched – grandmas even whose lives are limited – hence the need for doing the Living Lives to the Full Workshops.
  2. We have a short DVD which shows a couple of mums being through the services and we use this to raise awareness amongst the mums

Knock-on effects of PND on the mums – connection with mental health of child?

  1. We have to be mindful that sooner we can get mum well, the sooner we can limit child damage – in early months usually doesn’t affect baby, provided little one is being fed and changed, they are generally ok – said that when it goes on and on it can become more damaging
  2. Guy who does fathers work says its probably a 3/4 year old who struggles more than the baby who is fighting for mum’s attention.

What do you hope to achieve for the meeting in Westminster in May?

  1. Andrea Leadsom MP for South Northamptonshire works in Dept for Social Justice – we were looking at spreading the service across the UK, have been approached by lots of various organisations across the UK eg. Jo Bingley foundation. How do we do this? 19 staff 35 volunteers, how will we take it and translate it across the UK?
  2. Amanda suffered with PND – she has a podcast on her website.

A participant advised re “Cinnamon network” – have received £1.5m to work with Christian social enterprises and allow them to scale up across the country.  Entry point about providing a space, got money from Home Office to try and get monies across communities. Churches can also apply for micro – grants to allow us to start a project – bless the community.


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