Our Real Lives series meets Alison*, a mother plagued by alcoholism, mental health issues and domestic violence, but who is on the road to recovery and close to getting full guardianship of her son, thanks to support from Re-Unite 

Strengthening the parent-child bond of two generationsAlison had never been in trouble with the law before. However, when her mental health and alcohol issues got so bad she tried to take her own life by setting fire to her home, she was given a three-year sentence for arson.

The attempted arson on her home landed her in Drake Hall prison in Stafford. Here, she met prison support workers from the Anawim Project, which delivers the Re-Unite service across Birmingham.

A lack of access to alcohol while in prison gave Alison a new lease of life and she undertook education and training courses. But her one true desire was to live a normal life and look after her son, Jack*. It was agreed that she could join the Re-Unite programme to work towards gaining care and custody of Jack.

A history of domestic violence and alcohol abuse

The extent of Alison’s problems became clear to the Re-Unite workers when she was released from custody. Her problems had started at an early age when a troubled childhood saw her witness her mother suffer domestic abuse. Alison ended up in care in her teens, following a fractious relationship with her mother.

Moving on with her life she met a man and had two daughters. Yet her erratic behaviour never left her and she ended up walking out of the family home, leaving her partner and daughters. At this point she started to drink, moving from hostel to hostel and holding down jobs where she could. Finally, a friendship with a fellow drinker developed into an abusive relationship and although Alison was the doting mother to her newborn son, Jack, she could not steer clear of alcohol completely.

Alison made numerous attempts at taking her own life. “In a way, the arson has ended up saving her,” says Gina Stokes, Outreach and Prison Support Worker at the Anawim Project.

Re-Unite doesn’t give up

Both her progress in prison and her previous mental health issues led to her sentence being reduced. After 17 months Alison was ready to transfer to a Probation bail hostel on tag (HDC), where over four weeks her Re-Unite plans were set with her case worker at Anawim. She was referred and moved to a therapeutic rehabilitation centre to underpin her recovery and afterwards, drawing on an existing partnership between Anawim and the housing association Midland Heart, Alison would be offered more permanent housing with her son.

Unfortunately, “Alison left the rehabilitation centre of her own accord and sadly, as is the case for many women in her situation, she relapsed and had a number of alcoholic binges,” recalls Gina Stokes.

Making progress

However, there were positives. With the help of her Re-Unite support worker, Alison’s mental health slowly stabilised, her relationship with her mother turned a real corner, and she was also back in touch with her older daughters from her previous relationship, with whom she is now in regular contact.

Alison moved into two-bedroom supported housing flat provided by Midland Heart and started to have Jack back in her care every Saturday. Soon enough the family court allowed her to increase this to two days per week. The judge confirmed that the priority was to get Alison and Jack permanently reunited.

Currently Alison spends all weekend with Jack and her relationship with her mother continues to go from strength to strength. By January 2013, Alison should be reunited full time with Jack, giving him the daily love and care she so wants to provide.

*Alison’s and Jack’s names have been changed