A beacon of hope amid controversy

THE shockwaves after 11-month-old Ruby Spink's murder at a young mothers' hostel in Yarmouth continue to reverberate more than a year after it happened.

THE shockwaves after 11-month-old Ruby Spink's murder at a young mothers' hostel in Yarmouth continue to reverberate more than a year after it happened.

While GFS Platform, the charity that runs St Paul's Lodge, was cleared of any blame by the inquiry into the infant's death at the hands of resident Laura Spink's teenage boyfriend, its strategy and develop-ment manager Sue Battersby said the impact had been “devastating for everyone”.

Despite the inquiry's findings earlier this year, staff and residents still had to contend with public rumblings - however unjustified - about how the hostel is run.

At a time when the Baby P tragedy in Haringey has again thrown child welfare issues into the spotlight, Ms Battersby remains confident that it is still the right policy to continue to run the Salisbury Road hostel with a restricted level of support - a policy questioned at the time - to gradually prepare women for independent living.

And in a town recognised as a teenage pregnancy blackspot - in one of the only counties not to have lowered its rate over the past decade - Ms Battersby underlined the need for the charity to continue its pioneering work in offering young women a “platform” to escape the bleak generational cycle of teenage pregnancy, inexorably linked to poverty and low educational attainment.

As well as the hostel, which offers up to 10 homeless young mothers the chance to ease into independent living with life skills support, GFS Platform runs a centre on North Quay.

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One of four projects nationally, the centre offers a wide-ranging package of support for young mothers and pregnant teenage girls, from pre-natal care and child care advice through to finances, housing, employment and training.

Highlighting the serious challenges facing young mothers, Ms Battersby said at an age when most girls were fretting about their GCSEs these were young women with grown-up worries like paying bills and looking after babies.

And while the average high school girl was cocooned by a supportive family, some of these young mothers were isolated and could too easily end up lonely, vulnerable and living in sub-standard housing. They also had to contend with society's prejudices about seeing young women pushing a pram.

She said: “All mothers need help sometimes, whatever their age, but young mothers often shy away from asking for help because they are afraid of the response, 'I told you that you could not cope'.”

Ms Battersby said that while many young women had aspirations for a better life, they often lay dormant because of a lack of confidence, so it was important to boost self-esteem. The centre offered a drop-in for young mothers to develop social networks with their peers.

Ruth Crick, 17, of Rollesby, near Yarmouth, said she had a supportive family, but had still found GFS Platform an invaluable help after falling pregnant at the age of 15 - all the more of a shock because she was on the pill at the time.

Her education had been blighted by illness and she confessed she had stopped going to school at the age of 11. But with her mother on hand and the centre's creche available to look after her daughter, Leila-Rose, she had now embarked on a course at Yarmouth College designed to build confidence and basic skills.

“Next September I will be starting full-time on a beauty therapy course because that is what I have always wanted to do,” she said.

Another woman to benefit from the support, Carrie-Anne Elliott, 20, from Gorleston, said she had never been around babies when she was younger and had worried about coping after the arrival of hers, expected on December 23.

However, mixing with other young women at GFS Platform had boosted her self-confidence and made her realise she was not on her own.