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Hosted by WeCops using #WeCopsThis chat is guest hosted by @_the_blue_line_ @SgtJJSharps
Wednesday 28th April 2021 at 2100 hours
DC Keri Alldritt from GMP (tweeting as @_the_blue_line_)
and PS Jen Sharpling from the Met (tweeting as @SgtJJSharps)
The police service has historically been predominantly male. Over recent years we have seen an increase in the proportion of female officers, meaning a workforce more representative of the community we serve. The police service in England and Wales is now 30% female – now the highest level recorded (Home Office, 2019). The increase in female officers, naturally has seen more officers taking maternity leave. In 2003, the government also introduced legislation whereby paternity leave could be taken (UK Parliament, 2003).
The journey of pregnancy and parenthood can be a difficult one. Now more than ever people are experiencing complications on that pregnancy journey: In vitro fertilisation (IVF) and recurrent miscarriage but to name some. With the happy news of announcing a pregnancy to family and friends also comes the additional worries. When should I tell work? Will it affect my job role? Will I be moved? What will happen with my promotion? These questions are commonly thought of and become additional workplace worries.
When a staff member informs their supervisor that they are pregnant the general process is that a risk assessment is undertaken so that adjustments can be made to make them as safe as possible. This is NOT a specific legal requirement under the Health & Safety at Work Act (Health & Safety Executive, 2021), however most employers have separate risk assessments for pregnancy or those breastfeeding, the gold standard for an employer to ensure the safety of those working for them. The “process” sometimes can feel formal and most forces have some tick box proforma for this. Within midwifery care there is much debate as to whether this type of risk assessment is effective or whether a better way to risk assess is for a conversation to be had which is more informal.
Women can have such different pregnancy and birth experiences; from an uncomplicated pregnancy to a heavily medicated one or from home birth to emergency c section. It is important to understand all birth experiences have the power to be either positive or negative and one woman’s happy birth, can be another’s trauma. This has a huge implication for the woman and their partner. Traumatic birth experiences recorded for 2019 was 30,000 (Birth Trauma Association, 2021), with the yearly birth rate in 2019 was 640,370. This equates to around 5% of births resulting in birth trauma. It is also important to note that trauma can also be from an event within the antenatal, intrapartum or postnatal period (in simple terms: in pregnancy, birth or afterwards!).
Most police forces have allocated officers or staff members as advisers, advocates or special point of contact (SPOC) in order to offer advice and support to those pregnant, on maternity leave and returning to work. The umbrella term of “Maternity & Parenting” within each force now includes, IVF, miscarriage, stillbirth, endometriosis, adoption, surrogacy and fostering.
Unfortunately there are still examples of poor experiences in the workplace, ranging from issues with pay, lack of compassion, lack of understanding around medical conditions and physical challenges in pregnancy. These issues mostly arise from a lack of education or training around maternity issues within the workplace. These poor experiences can often leave members of staff feeling isolated, inadequate and sometimes unwanted. The solution to this issue is to educate people around maternity care, especially as it affects so many of our workforce. Sometimes it is the most simple of words or actions that can have a huge impact on an experience. And as Richard Branson famously says “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your clients”.
On returning to work after a lack of support and potentially no contact from the workplace when on maternity leave, staff may feel less inclined to disclose any difficulties on returning to work. Postnatal depression is a mental health condition where support can be vital to improve outcomes. Maternal mental health issues are more common than you may think with around 10-20% of women being diagnosed within the first year of giving birth; this is suggested to be an under reported figure (Public Health England, 2019). This does not only affect the woman giving birth, but can also her partner, family and friends. The woman suffering from MH issues may not necessarily be in the police, but the impact on her family, friends and colleagues who are, should not be underestimated. There is also research currently taking place around the impact on men, when it comes to mental health issues following a birth in the family.
Each police force within England and Wales have their own policies around maternity, and although some are similar there are still disparities meaning a “postcode” lottery for officers. There is currently a national maternity working group meeting regularly to improve the way all 43 forces work both individually and collectively.
Birth Trauma Association. (2021). The Birth Trauma Association (BTA), Retrieved from https://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/#
Health and Safety Executive. (2021).Expectant Mothers FAQ, Retrived from https://www.hse.gov.uk/mothers/faqs.htm
Home Office. (2019). Police Workforce, England and Wales, 31 March 2019, Retrived from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/831726/police-workforce-mar19-hosb1119.pdf
Public Health England. (2019). Perinatal Mental Health, Retrived from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/better-mental-health-jsna-toolkit/4-perinatal-mental-health#fn:1
UK Parliament. (2003). Paternity Leave and Pay, Retrived from https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmwomeq/358/35806.htm#:~:text=In%202003%2C%20paid%20paternity%20leave,the%20child's%20birth%20or%20adoption.
DC Keri Alldritt began her police career with GMP as a special Constable in 2005 at the age of 19 before joining as a regular officer in 2007. After being in a near fatal police car accident she decided to complete a degree in Midwifery in 2011. On obtaining a first class bachelor’s degree she spent two years as a community midwife attending home births and caring for women and their families. After thought she wanted to return to the police service with her newly learn skills which she did in 2016. Keri maintains her professional registration as a midwife and is now hugely involved in the care of officers within GMP as a maternity SPOC. Keri is passionate about wellbeing of officers and is involved in the National Maternity a working Group which strives to better the processes and support that is offered to officers who are pregnant and on maternity leave. Keri has two young girls and currently is on maternity leave herself.
PS Jen Sharpling began her police career with The Met in 2005 as a CAD operator, before joining as PC in 2008 and was promoted in 2018 to Sergeant. Jen has always had a big interest in women’s health and rights within policing, even more so when she became a Mother for the first time in 2016. Jen now has 3 little boys and her very mixed experiences on returning to work and treatment whilst pregnant/on maternity has led her to work passionately to create change for women, and men, who become parents and help them navigate through the challenges it can bring. Jen is a Met Family Advocate, and also sits on the Met Parenting Working Group having recently set up a Maternal Mental Health Peer Support Group. Jen also sits on the National Maternity Working Group where she is the lead on Maternal Mental Health in Policing following her own experiences. Jen returned to work from Maternity Leave at the beginning of this month.